Taste Test: Japananza, The Final Installment

Due to
popular demand and the fact that we love trying weird foods and candies,
The A.V. Club will now regularly feature "Taste Tests." Feel
free to suggest disgusting and/or delicious new edibles for future
installments: E-mail us at

Wait, are we
still doing this? We are? Oh, okay. Well, this is the last
of it. Or most of the last of it. While a few items remain in the box o'
Japanese food, this premise has overstayed its welcome, and really, we've had
enough squid.

But hey, there's
a new batch of interns to break in, and we have some octopus treats, seaweed,
and chocolate-covered shrimp crackers. Then there's the Crunky candy, curry-fry
snacks, chocolate french fries, chocolate beer (uh, from Oregon), a curry
drink, and "vanilla salt" donuts. Good thing we still have some Hint Mints left
over from the All Candy Expo.

The tasting
began with some octopus-flavored crisps, which had the airy texture of
ricecakes. They didn't look like they were made from
octopus, so we debated whether octopus flavorings were just added later, or the
octopus had been processed into oblivion to look like circular Fritos.
Flavor-wise, they were neither offensive nor intriguing; it mostly came down to
texture, and these had a pleasant enough crispness.

Nothing topped
the curry-fry snacks in that department. With the consistency of Funyuns, they
were 99 percent texture, 1 percent taste. Okay, maybe 3 percent. Again, not
bad, but empty calories need something more than crunch to justify them. To accompany
the curry fries, we popped a bottle of chanmery, a sweet, non-alcoholic drink
with the lightness of sparkling cider. It's apparently popular in Japan and
comes in a variety of flavors. We tried curry flavor; it sounds potentially
gross, but the taste was undeniably cider-like, and the curry flavor was subtle
to the point of non-existent.

Oh, but there
was no denying the flavor in the seaweed and Ebittcho, the shrimp-and-chocolate
treats. The former had a biting saltiness topped only by its overwhelming
fishiness, and it went down in flames in tasters' reports. The latter didn't
fare too well, either. In the Far East, maybe sweets and seafood intermingle
like yin and yang, but the flavor combination was pretty jarring to the
Westerners at The A.V. Club, who couldn't imagine why shrimp
and chocolate ever needed to co-mingle. What about salt and vanilla? Well,
that's also odd, but not in the same league. Ribon's "salt vanilla doughnut"
featured 10 mini-donuts to the pack, not unlike their chocolate and
powdered-sugar cousins found in every gas station in the U.S. These were simple
cake donuts, but with the sweetness ratcheted up, thanks to the copious vanilla
salt, which is similar to the stuff Starbucks has next to cocoa and cinnamon.
The donut's denseness and dryness made eating a whole pack seem like a bad

You know what
else is a bad idea? Combining chocolate and french fries. The idea isn't a new
one; in 2002, Heinz introduced its Funky Fries line, which included Cocoa
Crispers, a chocolate fry. (They didn't catch on, and were pulled from the
shelves a year later, according to a CNN story about foods
that flopped
.) But those fries were frozen, and these "Choco Frites
Au Lait" promised "BELGIAN QUALITY" on the label. Sadly, these fries are all
trompe l'oeil: Although shaped like french fries, they are instead filled with
a hazelnut paste, not fried potatoes. That's good, because the mind boggles at
the insane amount of preservatives needed to accomplish such a feat. Those
Belgians aren't miracle workers, you know.

Neither are the
Oregonians at Rogue Ales, who export Chocolate Bear Beer to Japan. It tastes
like a dark-chocolate bar mixed with a bitter ale, and it looked like chocolate
syrup with carbonation. It was good in small doses, but it's a sipper, not a
gulper—and the longer it sits warming to room temperature, the less
palatable it becomes.

You know what
else isn't palatable? A bizarre Little Black Sambo-esque blob for a mascot. But
there he is all over a tube of Conguitos, a sort of M&M;'s knockoff of
chocolate-covered peanuts. There's the free lil' bobblehead sitting atop the
tube, the giant cartoon of him on the side, and his adorable, big-lipped face
on every Conguito. (They're separated into two colors: brown and white.) He
beckons you as if to say, "Why hello dyah! Isa bet you likes you some sweet,
sweet chocolate! Ooooooooohhh mammmmmmy!" But cast no stones, racism
hounds—Conguitos also has a white version of its little mascot. See,
they're not insanely racist. Right? Right?

Turns out the
company that makes these lil' abominations isn't Japanese, but European.
Portuguese, to be exact, and it has a long history of offending people. Not
that it seems to bother the candy's manufacturer, LACASA. The candy's slogan:
"You'll recognize them by their face. Only Conguitos have the Conguito face!"
Well, it has a point there.

To flush out
this sweet, sweet racism, we finished with some Crunky popjoy. (Now friends of
Lil' Jon traveling to Japan will know what to get him for a gift.) Word on the
street foretold of the Crunky's deliciousness, but one look in the package
didn't bode well: These little chocolate nuggets glistened like glass, which was
a dead giveaway for the waxy chocolate that lay at their core. Inside was a mix
of chocolate and rice, which drew immediate comparisons to Krackel. But even
Hershey's uses better chocolate than these heartburn nuggets.


Octopus crisps:

— "It's good.
It's light and puffy—and tentacle-y."

— "It
tastes like a caramel rice cake."

— "I think they
just brushed puffed rice with octopus essence."

"Yes, I'm
getting the essence."

— "Not being
familiar with octopus, it tastes kind of ribby, like barbecue. But it has a
weird aftertaste."

— "It makes you
want to eat something else."


"That is a phenomenal crunch."

— "It's like a
stale fry."

— "They're like
Funyun sticks."

— "This is a
very cheap imitation of curry fries."


— "The curry
flavor is really, really light. I could see drinking this with a meal. It's a
good palate-cleanser."

— "It has a
very sour orange flavor."

— "It smells
like apple—like liquid Jolly Ranchers."

— "I'm not
really getting a curry flavor."

— "I would drink
this if it had actual booze in it."


— "GROSS."

— "I think it
looks like a Jolly Rancher that's melted."

— "Oh good lord,
that's terrible."

— "It's like
eating cellophane."

— "Wow, no one
should eat this, ever."

— "It's like
foul-tasting cellophane."

— "It'd be
interesting to wrap something with it."

— "I like it,
actually; it's so thin, but it's got a nice saltiness to it. The seaweed taste
is not overpowering; it's fairly subtle."

shrimp-and-chocolate treats:

— "I don't know.
I still taste the [seaweed]."

— "The shrimp
flavor doesn't come on until later, then it comes on

— "Yeah, uh, I
don't like shrimp."

— "How do they
get the shrimp in the crunch form?"

— "It's like a
KitKat bar, but in really, really light form."

— "I don't know
what I'm tasting here."

— "You don't
taste it until like 30 seconds after you eat it—another terrible

Salt Vanilla Doughnut:

— "God man,
it's—ahh—dry as hell. The salt of course absorbs any kind of
moisture; it's counterintuitive to put salt on a donut. It's also sort of a
cake-style donut but it is super-sweet." Minutes later:
"Just a status report on that donut: It's continuing to absorb whatever
moisture I had in my mouth."

— "This doesn't
really taste like anything."

— "You don't get
the salt so much because the sugar is so overpowering."

— "This tastes like
sugar-cookie dough that's been left out."


— "It's just
chocolate; it's not bad. It's really just chocolate and peanut butter."

— "It's like a
delicious peanut-butter cup in a greasier shape."

— "It tastes
like Easter candy that you've let sit for three Easters."

— "It tastes
like generic, no-name chocolate Easter eggs, with a chalky consistency."

— "The chocolate
so overpowers it that you wouldn't know there was anything else in it, but it's
not good."

Ales Chocolate Bear Beer:

— "I actually
really like this. You really can't make beer or chocolate too dark for me."

— "It's really
good. It doesn't taste like chocolate, much more like a port."

— "It's more
like Coke with chocolate syrup. It's like a beer and a chocolate soft drink."

— "Wow, that
really is horrible."

— "The beer is
the tastiest thing I've had."


— "Could
something taste racist?"

— "It's quite
good. We're all behind racism!"

— "If the KKK
handed these out as a recruiting tool, recruitment would go
up... because they're delicious!"

— "The white
ones have a yogurt taste."


[Lots of jokes
about crunk. We'll spare you.]

— "This is like
a giant Krackel; it's delicious."

— "Oh, it's
weird. There's a different foretaste than the aftertaste—it's like

— "Yeah, they
taste a little like caramel Nestlé Crunch bar."

— "Ugh, the
chocolate is awfully waxy."

— "Crunky
popjoy? It's lacking joy, however. And it didn't really pop."

to find them:
In the U.S., Rogue Ale's Chocolate Bear Beer is known
simply as Chocolate Stout, which is available in a limited supply, according to
the website.
The others? Japanese specialty stores–a good one is JList–and eBay.