Monday, October 9, 2017

Chinese Cup Noodles Review of Stewed Chicken and Spicy Pickled Cabbage Flavours

I received these souvenirs from China over the summer and had to try them out.  I'm not even sure who the manufacturers are, but they were supposed to be pretty tasty based on the input of some Chinese university students.  They're flavours I don't usually get so it was something different.

Stewed Chicken Cup Noodle
This one didn't survive the trip home in the luggage all that well.  As you can tell from the photos there is definitely battle damage.  Still, what was inside was still going to taste just as good as new.  This was a stewed chicken flavour and I wondered how it would taste.
Quite dented, but the photographs and the paper cup are of a nice quality.
Shows mushrooms, chicken thighs, some dried ingredients such as goji berries and a type of date or something that I've had in soup before.
Ingredients and nutritional information.
Photos of the ingredients.
You got a happy chef going on here.
One of the things I like about the Chinese cup noodles is that they often have a little foldup fork inside.  Very convenient.  You can see there is a packet of dried veggies, a dry soup mix, and a fat/liquid satchet.  Lots of stuff in this.
The cup was pretty banged up so I put the block of noodle into a ramen bowl to rehydrate in boiling water instead of possibly having hot water all over my kitchen table.  You can see cabbage, goji berries, dried mushrooms, soup powder and the liquid sachet in the photo above.
Rehydrated, the noodles and soup were pretty good.
 This was a pretty tasty instant noodle with a slightly different chicken stew taste that was a nice change.  Never had goji berries either in my instant noodles before either.  I'd have this again if it was offered!  The noodles had a good chewy texture and the veggies rehydrated nicely.


Spicy Pickled Cabbage
I really wasn't too sure about this one as I'm not usually a big fan of super spicy or pickled cabbage, but I was certainly willing to give it a try.  This also had very nice packaging and it was another paper cup of noodle.  Very attractive photography and you almost wish there were actually this many vegetables in your noodles!
Very nice purple coloured backgroun that blends nicely with the darker noodle soup.  You can see the pickled cabbage jars being highlighted.
3/4 view of the cup.  You can see it also got a little battle damaged during transit.
Ingredients and nutritional information.  You can see the face of a very happy dude giving these noodles a thumbs up.
There were lots of ingredients for this noodle.  There was a dried soup powder, a spicy paste satchet, a dried veggies packet, and a foil pouch of PICKLED CABBAGE!  This has got to be a great thing for pickled cabbage fans.
I was willing to chance that this bowl was not going to leak as it seemed more intact on the bottom end.
Very dark soup.  Could smell spicy and cabbage smells.
There's the emphasis on the fresh cabbage again!
While this cup noodle did not exactly make me want more, it was pretty spicy hot and bitter in combination with the spices and the pickled cabbage.  I finished the noodles and the cabbage and it was a different experience for me.  I'm still not a convert for these flavours and I did not have more soup than was necessary.  Still, I think people who like these flavours would probably really like these noodles.  It was a nice souvenir taste of China between the two kinds of instant ramen.

More Instant Ramen Posts and Japanese Pop Culture

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Anime Goods Stores in Tokyo

This is just a listing of anime stores I know about in Tokyo by district / landmark.  It is a list that will likely be updated over time as I find new things or have to remove defunct stores.  I drew this list up for my own research so I hope it is of use to you.
Shinjuku
  • Animate
  • Yodobashi Camera
  • Artnia Square Enix Cafe and a small shop (a bit of a walk on foot - take train)
  • Toho Building (where the giant Godzilla head is) now has a Godzilla store on the main floor (as of Oct 30, 2017).

Shibuya
  • Mandarake
  • Animate
  • Namco Character Shop  in Parco Part 1 (temporary closure for renovations in 2016?)
  • One Piece Mugiwara Store in Parco Part 1 (temporary closure for renovations in 2016?)
  • Production IG Store on the 7th floor of Shibuya Marui
  • One Piece Mugiwara Store on the 7th floor of Shibuya Marui
  • Loft
  • Tokyu Hands
Ikebukuro
Tokyo Tower
  • One Piece Theme Park
Tokyo Station
  • Character Street - many anime stores including Pokemon Center, Jump Store, Gundam Cafe, and Ultraman.  The stores tend to be small, but there are many of them.
  • Donguri Garden Store for Studio Ghibli character goods
 Odaiba
  • Noitamina Goods Store in the Aqua City Mall
  • Fuji TV Store in the Fuji TV Building
  • Gundam Base Tokyo in Diver City (Gunpla kits) +  Giant Gundam out front.
  • Some character goods stores for Sanrio and even Chicken Ramen on the main floor Diver City
  • Toy R Us at Decks Mall
  • Donguri Garden Stores for Studio Ghibli character goods at Venus Fort Mall 
  • Cool retro shops and Showa theme park in Aqua City too.
Akihabara
  • Anime goods everywhere - you're in Akihabara
  • Gamers
  • Animate
  • Mandarake
  • Yodobashi Flagship Store Camera
  • Kotobukiya Store
  • Akiba Culture Zone (Good Smile Cafe on top floor)
  • New Radio Kaikan 
  • Square Enix Cafe and small shop.
  • Gundam Cafe and small shop.
Tokyo Skytree
  • Pokemon Center
  • NHK TV Character Store
  • Jump Store
  • Donguri Kyowakoku Store for Studio Ghibli character goods (giant Totoro in window display)
  • Hello Kitty Store
Nakano Broadway
  • Anime stores part of the mall has tons of stuff that is new and used.
  • Very cool Mandarake collectors store (expensive collectibles)
Ghibli Museum 
  • Museum shop has unique Ghibli items you won't find elsewhere.
Ueno
  • Yamashiroya - cool toy store.
Omotesando / Harajuku
  • Kiddyland - more of generally amazing toy store.  Almost everyone sees something they want.
  • First permanent Sailor Moon store in Harajuku
Ginza
  • Sanrio Store - pretty big one

Monday, September 4, 2017

Our World Sucks! Six Anime Where You are Reborn into a Fantasy World

Hmmm...  I'm not particularly surprised that anime and Japanese light novels about heroes being transported from our world to fantasy world are popular right now.  The downside to the deal in these stories seems to be that you have to die in our world first in many cases.  Who doesn't want an escape from real world problems like: bad domestic politics, global warming, North Korean saber rattling and nukes, geopolitical tensions between America, the Russia, and China, the UK separating from the Eurozone, terrorism and hate crimes, food safety scandals, a declining middle class, poor job prospects, toxins in the water, racial tensions, and not enough Canada to go around.  There must be a pretty good sized audience in Japan for these light novels to spur anime adaptations to be created, so the same issues that worry us must also be affecting the Japanese.
Fantasy Hero
Modern
So here are six recent anime that have a modern world protagonist transported to a fantasy world with swords and sorcery of some sort.  All of these anime were available at the time of writing on Crunchyroll in August of 2017.
Medieval
Re:Zero - Starting Life in Another World
The hero, Subaru Natsuki, a hikikomori (shut-in), starts out his day (night actually as this is when he comes out with fewer people around) by going to a convenience store and gets transported to a fantasy world in between eye blinks.  He is rescued from muggers by Emilia, a half-elven wizard, whom he falls in love with. The gimmick to this show is that Subaru dies a lot, but due to his ability called "Return by Death," he gets to try again like restarting from the last checkpoint in a video game.  He loops until he solves why he dies or how to survive the events that kill him.  Sounds a little lame, but there are good characters and story arcs which kept me very entertained.  There are many forces at work in the background and I look forward to seeing how it all works out.

Konosuba: Gods Blessing on This Wonderful World!
Kazuma Sato, another shut-in, has an untimely death by automobile.  He gets an offer from a goddess named Aqua to be reincarnated into another world that has definite fantasy role-playing game elements.  Aqua teases Kazuma for being who he is, but Kazuma uses a one-time wish to drag Aqua along with him.  They both become an adventurers to make a living.  They meet Megumin, an explosion magic obsessed wizard, and Darkness, a masochistic crusader (aka Tank).  Aqua turns out to be a powerful cleric type, but flighty, and not all that competent despite her abilities.  All four are flawed characters, but they have many pretty funny adventures together.  The level of fan service is pretty high in this one, but it is entertaining if you can get over that.

In Another World With My Smartphone
Touya Mochizuki is struck by lightning and killed by God.  This turns out to be a horrible accident and God allows him to be reborn into a fantasy world where he can help out.  God buffs his stats though, enabling him to be stronger and use all types of magic. Best of all, he gets to keep his smartphone which is now magically powered and connects to a magical internet that can do real-time mapping and even retrieve information from our world.  God also has him on his contact list too.

This show is kind of cheesy, as Touya is pretty overpowered, and he has a bit of a female following built-up around him as time goes on.  He also becomes involved in the kingdom by helping out key figures in the nobility, including the king.  Also, entertaining, but not very serious.

Knight's and Magic
Tsubasa Kurata is a mecha otaku who dies in a an auto accident.  He is reincarnated as a young boy named Ernesti Echevalier who enters the knight academy to learn to pilot magically powered mechs called Silhouette Knights.  These giant mechas fight demon beast that threaten the kingdom.

Ernesti was a programmer in his previous life and uses that ability and his love of mecha to improve the basic design and capabilities of the mechs as the show progresses.  The mecha design is quite good, and is a high point for the show.  Ernesti is a pretty flat character, who doesn't really get personal relationships, but is a good guy and a mecha designer genius.  All kinds of demon beast battles and conflict with other kingdoms ensue.  Worth watching if you like mecha.

Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash
This is a more serious anime with people being reborn/transported into an alternate fantasy world.  All the heroes arrive from our world without memories and are assigned to protect the border areas from monsters.  They are unsuccessful as adventurers at first but develop over time into a successful band despite losses.  Lots of melee combat, and it is the most "real" of the anime so far  Worth a watch if you like fantasy and darker fare.

No Game No Life
Our hero Sora and his stepsister Shiro are two shut-ins who are undefeated gamers.  One day, the god of games, challenges them and summons them to another universe where the rules are run by different games.  Here they must save humans from more powerful magical species by using their superior gaming skills, their tablets that can tap information from our world, and their cunning intellects.

I didn't think I'd like this as much as I did, but the world building was pretty fun and the stories were really entertaining.  Ultimately they're going to have a show down with god so that has gotta be good, but it isn't happening in the first season.

Saga of Tanya the Evil
This is another more serious anime.  It is set in an alternate European world with a WWI technology level, but with combat mages, and magically powered gear and weapons.  The mages even have flying gear so they have aerial dogfights with each other and conventional aircraft (watch the awesome Izetta the Last Witch for more witches in combat).

Our hero is a salaryman who just wants to have a successful life, but is killed by an employee he lays off, as he seriously lacks empathy.  He is given a second chance by Being X who chides him for not believing in God and is reborn as a little girl named Tanya von Degurechaff.  Tanya retains all of her memories and ends up joining the army as a child to to rise in the world.  She does very well in combat and rises in rank due to her superior tactical and strategic thinking.  Does Tanya develop more compassion while dueling with the will of Being X, and fighting all the enemies of the Empire?  It was fun to find out.

More Stuff . . .
That was six shows about people from our world being reborn or cast into another world.  Who knew there were so many.  There are also many other light novels too such as Blue Steel Blasphemer, etc.  Also, other shows of note with an alternate fantasy world:
  • Gate: Jieitai Kano Chi nite, Kaku Tatakaeri.  This is one of my favourite anime from last year.  The Japanese Self-Defence Forces fight back an army of medieval warriors from Tokyo and our hero, Yoji Itami, goes to save people from dragons and evil emperors.
  • Restaurant to Another world.  It's a Japanese cooking show with fantasy characters eating at a restaurant from our world that opens once every seven days in the magical world.
  • Familiar of Zero.  Our hero is summoned into a magical world as a familiar and turns into a mighty warrior to help our hapless female wizard.
  • Outbreak Company.  The Japanese government finds a gateway to a fantasy world and decides to culturally colonize it with otaku cultures.  Kind of disturbing and kind of fun with an otaku hero to saves the day.
  • Drifters.  Heroes from our world, from all time periods, are sent to fight against and evil in a fantasy world.

Six Fantasy Anime With a Modern Hero
More Anime Posts

Monday, August 21, 2017

Famous Ramen Shop Series Nakiryu Dan Dan Cup Noodle Review

Nakiryu Dan Dan Cup Noodle is a limited edition released in early summer 2017 as part of Nissin's Famous Ramen Shop Series of Cup Noodles.  It was co-developed between the ramen shop and Nissin and reflects upon the high standards of Nakiryu which is the second ramen restaurant in Japan to earn a Michelin Star after Tsuta.  

I had to order this Cup Noodle when I saw that Hobbylink was carrying it.  The product was backordered, but I wasn't going to be in Japan any time soon, and limited editions are only available for a short time.  I wanted to try this instant ramen pretty bad, way more than the Brazilian Chicken Cup Noodle and the Big Cup Noodle Mystery Meat.

When the cup of noodle arrived, I saw that it was in the customary, high quality, paper cup for Nissin.  It had plain, yet very professional graphics on the side that made extensive use of white.  The photo of the ramen on the top even makes it look like a deliciousl bowl of ramen.  Very nice!
Nakiryu Cup Noodle.  The cup is the size of the Big Cup Noodles and the paper cup has a kind of soft foam insulation on the outside that the graphics are printed on.
There is the sesame and red chile pepper oil packet glued to the top of the lid.  The noodles are ready in 4 minutes.
Closeup of the oil packet.
In Japan, and some Asian countries, instant noodles can be pretty deluxe, not just starving student food.  I was really wondering what the flavour profile and the soup and the noodles would be like for this ramen, but I wasn't really worried about being disappointed.  I was pretty sure that the Cup Noodle would be pretty tasty as it was representing the honour of a michelin starred ramen restaurant.
The lid and cup with the oil packet removed.  The restaurant serves the dan dan noodles with a scoop of ground pork and green onions on top.  As I said earlier, the cup graphics are very nicely designed to show off the ramen shop name and its signature product with sophistication.  Not your western cup of noodle.
I had also previously read a review of this at en.rocketnews and it just sounded so yummy, especially as they even favourably compared it to the ramen they ate at the actual restaurant itself.  It did sound almost too good to be true.

Dan Dan Cup Noodle is the portable version of Nakiryu's most popular ramen noodle soup.  Dan dan noodles are also a spicy noodle dish that originated from China's Szechuan province.  I've never had the Japanese ramen version before, but have had the tasty Chinese versions before and they are usually zippy with sesame and chili oil and thick noodles.
Shot of the front of the cup.  You can see the Michelin award at the top right.
Nice shot of the outside of Nakiryu and nutritional profile.  This particular ramen has 23 grams of fat, but it is a larger cup of noodle and I'm pretty sure the richness in the flavour comes from oils and fats, just like in a restaurant ramen.
Ingredients.
Another shot of the front of the cup.
The top of the lid is peeled back to expose a whole pile of ingredients on top of the noodle block.  You can seen soup base powder (soy and chicken flavours), bits of ground pork, and lots of green onions.  The aroma from the package smelled a bit like soy, but I think I kind of had a whiff of vinegar in it too.

Shifting the ingredients off to the side, you can see that a thinner, fried noodle is used.  Nakiryu does use a thin noodle and this is a nice sign of authenticity.
Information about Nakiryu on the underside of the lid.
Hot water was added to the ramen, which then rehydrated for 4 minutes.  When I peeled the lid back, I saw a tasty looking cup noodle.  But it still wasn't done.  I added the sesame and chili sauce packet to it.  The red oil showed up brightly against the duller soup stock.  This was all then thoroughly mixed together to give the ramen soup an orangy red tinge that wasn't like your typical instant noodle at all.
It was now time to try this cup noodle to see if it lived up to the hype.  The colour of the soup was a orangy tinged tan colour, kind of creamy in appearance.  The aroma from the soup was complex with definite soy and sesame smells that made it smell really good.  There were little bits of ground meat mixed throughout and the piece of green onion were larger in size, not just tiny little bits.

My first sip of the broth definitely impressed me.  It was a nice rich soup with the sesame almost being a bit nutty at times.  There was a nice heat from the chili oil too, but it wasn't too spicy.  It was definitely one of the nicer instant noodle soup stocks that I have tasted.  Very impressive.  The noodles were nicely hydrated, with nice chew to them, and the thin noodles drew out the flavour of the soup that coated them with every bite.  The little bits of ground meat were also very nice, but the flavourful soup and noodles ruled.  This cup of noodle is a winner.  They should make it a regular flavour so we can always have it.  I think it would be kind of nice now to visit the actual Nakiryu restaurant, but these instant noodles will do for now.
Closeup of the noodles and some of the meat.  Not your normal Nissin cube of mystery meat.
Another shot of the cup outside where I ate it on a fine, sunny morning.
Shadow of the ramen. Burp!

More ramen noodle posts and Japanese pop culture.


Monday, August 7, 2017

Nissin 45th Anniversary Donburi Sukiyaki Udon Review

Nissin Donburi Sukiyaki Udon comes in a bright yellow bowl with graphics from their Donbei Udon line and the Mt. Fuji and Japanese pop culture images they have been using.  This is the third product that Nissin released to celebrate their 45th anniversary of Cup Noodles.

Aside from the Green Tea Seafood Cup Noodle, this was the other product out of the anniversary trio I had been looking forward to trying out.  The image on the lid shows nice thick udon style noodles in a nice looking broth with little slices of beef.  All very appetizing, but let's see how the final dish looks.
Very attractive food packaging.
Closeup of the lid.  On the left side, you see graphics of Raijin, the thunder god, a pagoda, bullet train, and a samurai.  The graphics are kind of ukiyo-e in style.  In the middle there is a ninja on a bike and a lucky cat hiding at the top.  On the right, there is a geisha, sumo DJ, a truck with some dudes on it.  A drone with a lantern is in front of Mt. Fuji.
Directions and ingredients.
Warnings and nutritional information.
Closeup of the left side of the lid.
Closeup of the right side of the lid.
The opened noodle bowl shows the block of fried noodle with a package of dried veggies and meat in green, and a package of sukiyaki soup sauce on the right in red.
Promotional details on the inside of the lid, with a closeup of the fried noodles.  They are wide and flat.
The dried ingredients at the top.  You can see pieces of the beef, green onion, and carrot.  The liquid sukiyaki sauce drained right through the noodles.  I added boiling water, closed the lid, and waited 5 minutes.
After peeling the lid completely off, this is what I saw.  It already looks really tasty and a nice soy scent wafted up from the soup.
This was a really good bowl of udon noodles.  The sukiyaki flavoured broth was both savoury with a hint of sweetness to accompany the soy and had a nice rich depth to it.  The soup was a nice brown colour in which the noodles contrasted nicely.  I didn't really notice anything different about the udon noodles which seem like the typical Donbei ones, but they were on the softer side of firm with a nice chew to them.  The little pieces of beef surprised me the most as they were actually beef flavoured, soy protein.  They sure had the texture of cooked beef with a flavour that hinted of nicely marinated meat.  I liked it a lot.  This bowl of udon was a two thumbs up kind of bowl. 
Closeup of the textured soy - beef flavour and the noodles.
Closeup of the bottom of the lid.


More ramen noodle posts and Japanese pop culture.


Saturday, August 5, 2017

Japanese Convenience Store Vending Machines

Japanese convenience stores are really pretty amazing from the variety and types of food and beverage products they stock to the quality of the food.  They are also everywhere near any type of business or transportation hub.  Since their introduction in the 1970s, based off of the American convenience store model, the Japanese konbini is really in a league of its own for now. 
Micro Lawson Kiosk in a train station.  I'd still love to have one of these near my house.
In the first half of 2017, it looks like 7-11 took the lead in market share from the other chains like Lawson and Family Mart in Japan, but the market space is still very competitive.  Despite their convenience (they are still pricier than supermarkets), expansion of these chains has slowed considerably in Japan due to market saturation and demographic issues such as an aging population with fewer young people. 

The chains are now all looking to grow by expanding overseas, but they are also trying to grab niche markets at home at the same time by putting in snack stations in businesses to increase convenience and profits.  Snack stands may be as simple as a plastic display holding snacks and a payment box for cash to larger installations such as full vending machines that get restocked on a daily basis.

Lawson and Glico (as in the snack company that makes Pocky) both have the smaller stands / displays with Glico having done this for over a decade.  Family Mart is pioneering vending machines for fresh food and beverages.  They are found in train stations, airports, and larger businesses.  These machines vend both hot and cold drinks, room temperature snacks, and refrigerated fresh products.  It is the fresh products that kind of grab my attention as they stock everything from the 100 yen rice ball, salads, to fresh sandwiches (such as their yummy ham and egg salad sandwiches).  While vending machines with sandwiches and such are nothing new (you've probably seen them in cafeterias at work or at big schools), they work better in Japan because of:
  • The efficient konbini logistics network of daily or even more frequent restocking to guarantee freshness.
  • The high quality of the food (it tastes great).
  • And the variety of the product which ranges from rice balls to cakes and pastries.  The convenience store chains carry name brands and their own house brands which are good quality and not like generics.
 Below are some pictures of the Family Mart machines at Narita airport.



Just as a side note, the Yamazaki Bread Company also makes some amazing sandwiches with sweet to savory fillings that last for days at room temperature.  There is some kind of food preservation miracle at work here (some of which is also used in MREs) as this includes egg, tuna salad, and other meat sandwiches.  The sandwich packs actually taste pretty good too with nice soft bread going well with the various fillings.  These sandwich packs are apparently well dated to ensure freshness too.  I've seen at least one Youtube video that indicated that convenience store POS systems can tell from the bar code if something is past date, issue a warning, and they will not sell you the sandwich.  Pretty good system at work. 
Display of Yamazaki sandwiches on a shelf.
Closeup of a some meat sandwich packs.  Note the dating in the bottom left hand corners.

I couldn't resist adding this vending machine photo taken in Ueno near the Yamashiroya toy store.  After you get your sandwich, you get a nice drink to go with it from another vending machine!
At the end of all of this, I can only say that options for a quick bite to eat are pretty good in Japan when you don't want to go to even a fast food outlet or a regular convenience store isn't available.


More Japanese pop culture posts and ramen reviews