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

Nissin 45th Anniversary UFO Noodle Ume Cha Yakisoba Review

This pickled plum green tea flavoured UFO yakisoba noodle is one of the three limited edition cup noodles that Nissin released in early 2017 to celebrate their 45th Anniversary.  It comes in an attractive package that follows the Mt. Fuji, funky Japanese pop culture vibe shown in all of the anniversary packaging.  I was a little worried that the noodles might turn out to be very sour plum-ish in flavour, but I was pleasantly surprised with the finished product.
The bright red and very colorful festive plastic wrapping the UFO noodles come in.
A closeup of the front of the package.  You can seen the cartoonish pop culture icons at the sides of the package like the thunder god at the left with samurai and bullet train and the sumo wrestler DJ on the right.  The noodles are shown with bright flakes of plum, cabbage and seaweed.  These are called UFO noodles because of the saucer shape of the noodle bowl.
The bottom of the package with calorie and nutritional information.
Ingredients list.
 Unlike the cup noodles, which have the graphics printed onto the side of the cup, the UFO noodles always come in a plain bowl with all of the decor on the cellophane wrapping.
Once the wrapping is taken off it reveals a pretty big lid that is multi-functional.  The lid has preparation instructions, do's and don'ts, and is pretty text heavy.
UFO bowl noodles are not like cup noodles which are typically noodle soups.  These noodles simulate a pan fried noodle concept so there is no soup.  To get your noodles to a ready to eat stage takes a few extra steps.
More of a tilted side view to show the dish/bowl shape of the noodles container.
You only peel the lid half-way back to reveal a noodle block, and a number of ingredients satchets.  This noodle came with a oil / sauce pouch, a pickled plum pouch, and a veggie / seaweed pouch. The noodles are thin and had the cabbage and green onion flakes already on them.
So you add boiling water up to the fill line shown on the inside of the container.  Close the lid for three minutes and then open the little flap at the opposite end of the container.  It reveals a bunch of drain holes.   NEVER peel the lid all the way back on any instant noodle cup product until it is ready to eat.
Now drain all of the water off that was used to rehydrate the noodles and cabbage.  If you peeled the whole lid back you'd have a pretty hard time doing this so this lid is a pretty clever design.
Once the water is drained, you can then add the additional ingredients like the pickled plum and seaweed, and the seasoning oil / sauce.
You're supposed to mix up the ingredients now, but this is pretty hard to do with just a fork.  What I like to do is to close the lid (which is why you don't totally peel it off), then gently shake it about to mix everything together.  The inside of the lid gets a little messier, but things get nicely blended to together.
The nice looking noodles are ready to eat with a light sprinkle of pickle plum and cabbage all around. 
The final product for the mixed up noodles had a nice pickle plum smell to them and the noodles were firm with just enough chew to them.  The seasoning sauce looked more like a seasoning oil with plum tea extract in it.  The whole dish had a more delicate smell and taste to it than I imagined it would have.  It was both different and pleasant to eat with just a hint of the sour plum in every mouthful.  Some people might have wanted a stronger plum / tea taste, but it was just fine for my tastebuds.

More ramen noodle posts and Japanese pop culture.