It’s a cold, hard fact: Just as it is with game shows, toilets and life expectancy, Japan kicks our American asses when it comes to junk food. Cookies, cakes, chips — you name it, they do it better. I’m able to keep my composure in your average American supermarket, acting like a responsible adult and setting a good example for my kids. I hit the Japanese market, and all bets are off. I’ve been known to drop a hundred bucks on candy on impulse.
I’ve moved well past in-store shopping and now use the wonders of the internet to buy my candy direct from the promised land — Japanese junk food is worth shipping fees, extra taxes and exorbitant markups. The magic is their “adult flavor” (this is literally what they call it), meaning that nothing is too sweet. While I can have a moment of weakness with Oreos just as readily as the next girl, there’s something sickly about them that makes me feel awful after a sleeve or two. (Yes, I understand that I’m the problem in that situation, but I will never change, and I’ve learned to accept that.)
But the thing that’s made me a hardcore convert? The sheer variety of flavors is flat-out bananas! Not only are there the predictable Eastern flavors (such as green tea), but there are insane varieties of common American products you wouldn’t have thought of in your wildest dreams.
That’s right — many of the brands you know and love have been holding out on you! There’s a whole world out there where colas are spiking themselves with exotic fruits, chocolates are being infused with everything under the sun, and chips are mating with soups. Special-edition flavors are a very big deal in Japan, so you can count on having your mind blown in brand-new ways every few months.
Here are some of my favorite things to buy, both in-store and online, that will make you consider renouncing your American citizenship.
Kit Kats are my favorite candy and the undisputed chocolate-covered king of Japan. They have close to 300 flavors and are sold everywhere, from the post office to the fanciest of department stores, since you never know when you’ll need a fix.
Examples: Sweet potato (pictured here), pancake, pumpkin pudding, strawberry "cheeze" cake.
Every year for Christmas, my husband goes on Amazon and buys me a huge box of every random flavor he can find, which truly does make the best possible present for the person who has everything. Order one of many assortments available online, and surprise yourself. And don’t hesitate to splurge on one of the pricier limited-edition flavors. I got one last year that I can’t even come close to pronouncing — or even identifying, for that matter — and I assure you that not only was it delicious, but I felt like the fanciest lady to ever eat candy from a post office.
This is a popular Asian crossover you’ve possibly once picked up at the register on impulse, but you likely have no clue how deep the Pocky trail goes. I’ve been to more than one market that has its own Pocky aisle. I like them because they come in a sturdy box you can tuck inside your purse so you can sneak one in the bathroom every so often like I sneaked cigarettes in 10th grade. (Just because I’m a mom in her 30s doesn’t mean I can’t still be a bad, bad girl.)
When you see the Pocky, buy all the Pocky. There’s no one flavor better than the rest. You can bunch a few together to make a SuperPocky. But if I have to choose one flavor, I pick Pocky for Men, because I like challenging traditional gender roles.
One of the greatest regrets I have ever had was not ordering Clam Chowder Doritos a few years back when I had the chance. Were they disgusting? Probably, but I will never know for sure.
There are plenty of Dorito-flavored Doritos in Japan, but just like Kit Kats, they are constantly outdoing themselves with new flavors, most of which are more “gourmet” and less “inebriated college student.” Here in America, they push “Xtremeness” (which needs to be spelled like that so the world knows that the boys in corporate are “hip” and “with it”). Japan will go crazy with things like smoky bacon or fried chicken but will also get sexy with things like Camembert cheese, garlic anchovy or roasted wild mushrooms. A perfect accompaniment to go with a snifter of Mountain Dew and your fanciest marijuana.
If you got excited over Crystal Pepsi, you are going to lose your crap over Asian Pepsi! I’ve had flavors so crazy they’ve worked, like Salty Watermelon. I’ve also had some complete garbage, like Cucumber, but nothing ventured, nothing gained. Currently I’ve seen an intriguing Cherry Blossom flavor floating around the internet, another with double carbonation for extra burps and one described as such:
"High Fibre / Fat Blocking" Pepsi is how it is being advertised here in Japan. All the flavor of Pepsi you enjoy but with apparent health benefits. It can stabilize one's glucose level, lower serum lipids, and increase the absorbance of nutrients. An interesting collectable for the avid cola fan!
I don’t know whether to be ecstatic or terrified here.
If you’re similarly obsessed with the Lay’s “Do Us a Flavor” contest, Japanese Pringles are going to be your new BFF. They make good choices like Chilli Lime instead of idiocy like Cappuccino. For some reason, I am more forgiving of the Japanese for trying crazy ideas than I am of Americans. Maybe it’s because I’m still bitter about their picking Cappuccino over any one of my 4,000 brilliant entries. Those morons wouldn’t know genius if it smacked them over the head with a hammer.
I saved this one for last because it’s so far past what you could even have possibly imagined. Here in America, we’re just starting to experiment with new flavors. Over in Japan, Oreos are miles beyond flavors — they have completely transcended form. We’re talking Oreo sticks, Oreo cakes, Oreo candy bars. We’re talking having been completely screwed by Oreo USA, who has been plying its A game an ocean away.
And while fillings here taste like pure sugar and shortening (because that’s what they are), Japanese fillings taste rich and decadent, with robust flavor profiles and a general air of superiority, because these Oreos are too good for us, and they know it. Go set aside a paycheck, and order one of everything you can find on the internet. It will be the best bad decision you’ve made in a while.
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