The Japanese Have It: Weird Food 2016

I didn’t set out to have all of my ‘weird food’ options for 2016 be from Japan.

I’ve done that kind of list before, you see, so I hoped for another direction this year.

I tried and tried. I checked out Scandinavia. I looked for Indonesian oddities. I even scoured the darker nooks and crannies of ‘Murrica for all of the strange, edible things we can put in our mouths this time of year.

But Japan has more than a corner on this market… They own the whole damn store. That said, here is the decidedly Island-Nation-Derived Blogtoberfest Weird Food List for 2016. Doumo arigatou.

1. I say potato, you say pumpkin spice

 

Here, Japan dips its collective toe into the western theme of pumpkin spice everything. Japanese McDonalds restaurants have added Pumpkin Spice French Fries to their Halloween menus, and they’re not even an entirely new creation, having been inspired by the ‘McChoco Potato’ side dish that already exists.  While McChoco Potato is a basket of fries drizzled with white and milk chocolate sauce, the pumpkin spice fries (aka Halloween Choco Potato) are doused with milk chocolate and an as-of-yet-unidentified orange ‘pumpkin sauce.’ Thanks to the Angry Mancave podcast for the tip on this one.

2. Hipster Vampire Repellent

 

In Japan, but not in the mood to go out? Settle in with a big ole bag of black garlic pepper Doritos. These are jet-black tortilla chips with a garlic dusting… actually doesn’t sound too bad, although I’m not clear on what is actually making the chip black. Props to ‘ritos for the vampire illustration on the packaging, though.

3. That’s Yamtastic

 

Eggs n’ Things sounds like a New England breakfast chain, but it’s actually a ‘Hawaiian Casual’ dining giant in Japan that specializes in pancakes. They’ve put a twist on their signature item this month by turning them purple. How, you ask? With sweet potato paste, of course. The ‘cakes are then nestled in a raspberry ‘sea of blood’ and served with a ‘Halloween Special Drink’ (can we get marketing on this name, please) – blue lemonade with a syringe filled with strawberry sauce.

4. Over My Dead Cheeseburger

 

Not to be outdone, another Japanese chain — Lotteria — has introduced its own purple-sauced creation with the Purple Magic Bacon Double Excellent Cheeseburger.” I’d say the real star of this meal is the wagging bacon-tongue protruding from the bun if it wasn’t for a similar burger making headlines a few years ago. So the spoils have to go to the packaging: a hopefully not-forboding coffin for a box, plus a smiling vampire wrapper. You can also order a shake with a photo-prop-ready straw on the side.

5. I scream, because your ice cream is glowing

 

Fun Fact: Did you know Baskin Robbins is known simply as ’31 Flavors’ or ’31’ in Japan? I’m surprised North America hasn’t gone that route yet. But I’m not surprised that we have yet to fully embrace its newest flavor offering: glow-in-the-dark sundaes. Apparently, yes it really glows in the dark (though, why are we eating ice cream in the dark?) and tastes a little like a melon soda, which is also a thing.  31 also unveiled the “Extremely Hot Spicy Chocolate I Scream Sundae” this month, which is spiced with a habanero chocolate sauce hot enough to be served on the side in a separate packet.

Halloween Food IV: The Savory and the Sweet

Halloween Food III: The Fearsome Five

Halloween Food II: Gee, Your Food Looks Haunted

Halloween Food I: OctoFood

Note- the feature photo of the bloated chocolate faces used for this post was actually borrowed from a Weird Valentines post.

 

Japan: Random Observations

A Blogtoberfest Guest Post by Max Hartshorne, editor of GoNomad.com

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(c) Kawasaki Halloween

I arrived in Japan on Thursday, and here are some of my observations so far after touring around Tokyo, and a town in the suburbs called Kanto. First, Japan is crowded, it becomes the most clear when I stood at an intersection in the Ginza district and the sea of humanity crossed four sidewalks in unison.

A sea of black heads all around me, and again I felt this when we strolled down a narrow shopping street, packed in. Good thing most Japanese I’ve met and interacted with are polite.The country is very interested in Halloween. I saw many, many Halloween displays in shops in Tokyo, with house decorations and costumes for sale.

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Every morning I’ve woken up at around 6:45 am, it’s always been drizzling. But not one time did the rain persist, it’s like it just starts that way and then gets nicer as the day goes on.

I was in the Edo Tokyo Museum and saw a chart that showed how dramatically air pollution has been reduced in the metropolitan area; it’s impressive.

Part of this is because every year, owners of cars here have to get them inspected, and it costs nearly $1,000.  And if you drive an older car, it costs even more!  So there are virtually no junkers driving the streets, the strict inspections makes sure of that.

Advertising is omnipresent. On the Tokyo Metro, there are decal ads on the
train windows, and every ten feet big posters drop down horizontally from the ceiling.  There is almost no more room for billboard ads on the sides, and some are video screens showing loops of ads.

People ride lots of bicycles here…not like Amsterdam, but there aren’t as many motorcycles and scooters as I thought I’d see. You can’t just park your bike, either, you have to pay for a parking space in these giant bike parking lots. Many signs warn not to park bikes. They have a bike rental system similar to NYC but all of the bikes seemed to have been in use at each stop I saw.

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We dined in a restaurant that was devoted to sweet potatoes. SP wine, SP beer, SP soup, SP tempura, it was all either SP or made with SP and other things. Not that great, sorry.

We were at a food festival here, too: the food stalls had gigantic colorful signs with five-foot high photos of the steaks, long hot dogs, and other foods being grilled for sale.

Even in 2016, the number of English speakers here is amazingly low. In a sushi restaurant in Tokyo, even when I tried to ask for ‘rice’ it went nowhere. People don’t like to learn English, and there is no TV with subtitles that could teach the masses English as has been the case in Germany and Scandinavia.

Twice I checked into a hotel and spotted an ashtray—and the reek of cigarette smoke. You should ask before you check in because I had to change rooms twice after being booked in a smelly room.

The plugs are indeed American style plugs—but without the grounding pin. So your three-prong Mac cord won’t easily fit into any plugs in the room. Everywhere the plugs are two prong, and I am so glad I brought an adapter. Be warned.Young women here love wearing bobby socks. And knee socks. And big chunky shoes, or cool looking Adidas Sam Smith tennis shoes.  Men wear leather shoes, many times with pointy toes, like in Europe.  Men in any sort of a business capacity, like one of our local guides, wore a suit and tie, even though it was hot as hell.

Breakfast in Japan, even in a hotel like the ones I’m staying in, is a very Japanese menu. I’ve enjoyed daily miso soup, seasoned rice, salmon mackerel, cubed tofu, fermented vegetables and other funny looking little veggies every day.  Though many hotels have Japanese rooms with tatami mats, my rooms have been western style. But the toilets, as many people have observed, are always a little funny.

The Toto Washlet system replaces the standard toilet seat with a heated unit that acts as a bidet and a replacement for toilet paper, including a cute little graphic of a bum in the shape of a curvy ‘W” being sprinkled.

I must say that I want one for my own bathroom at  home.

Max Hartshorne

I’ve been the editor of GoNOMAD.com the travel website since 2002. I travel every month and share the people I meet and the places I see right here. I am lucky to be doing exactly what I want and to be surrounded by children, grandchildren, good friends and with a good woman by my side. I live in the small village of South Deerfield Massachusetts. Follow me at twitter.com/gonomad

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The Fearsome Five: 2014’s Weird October Food Post

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Kanikko, the world’s crunchiest baby sacrifice.

Every year, I compile a list of Octobery foods, be they weird and wacky or healthful and harvested. Each item may not be brand new, but has somehow infiltrated the headlines, and made its way to my Google-searching fingers. I’ve shied away from the Halloween-ized foods that otherwise aren’t so different from their year-round counterparts, like orange donuts and boo-ritos. Below, though, you’ll find some foodie finds, fast-food anomalies, and slightly scary snacks culled from various places … often Japan. Read on!

1. According to The National Restaurant Association, ‘forbidden rice’ is an emerging foodie trend, along with emu eggs and black garlic. If blue tortilla chips, then why not purple rice? It may not thrill your kids when served up as a starch but it’s popping up in fine-dining restaurants all over the world.

2. Kanikko, seen above, is one of Japan’s many, many weird contributions to the global food scene. This tasty snack combines seafood and sweets in candied baby crabs, which are described as sweet, salty and “majorly crunchy.”

3. In keeping with the Japanese theme, the island-nation’s fast food chains never disappoint this time of year. McDonald’s was first out of the gate with its Halloween menu item this season, an orange and black hamburger that’s not stomach-turning at all.

It’s colored with squid ink and orange chipotle sauce, and joins the Ghostly Camembert Chicken Filet Sandwich (Camembert?) and the Pumpkin Oreo McFlurry, which needs to come stateside ASAP.

4. For the entertainer in all of us, I picked this horrifying meat and cheese platter that will leave visions of Hellraiser dancing in your head.

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These are called Meatheads and are being created by slightly-off event planners everywhere… a quick image search will haunt your dreams for days.

Surprisingly, though, they’re likely to be a crowd-pleaser featuring cold cuts, cheese, olives, and hard-boiled eggs … the latter two ingredients make up the unnerving eyeballs. One website even suggests that turkey and prosciutto work best as the undead flesh.

5. As someone who used to live on Mulberry Street — the actual Mulberry Street that inspired the book — I’m a fan of all things Seuss.

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This year, HuffPo identified 13 foods that were, or could’ve been, inspired by Dr. Seuss himself including and beyond Green Eggs and Ham. My choice for this list is number eight — spinach cake, which actually looks great. (See what I did there?)