Different kinds of Pocky

Yesterday was Pocky Day. It is a Japanese ‘holiday’ that celebrates the snack Pocky. The reason that the 11th of November was chosen as Pocky Day, is because the date consists of lots of 1’s, which are of course shaped like Pocky.

What is Pocky? It’s a crunchy biscuit stick covered with chocolate. This is the classic Pocky with milk chocolate:

The classic Pocky in its characteristic red package

The classic Pocky in its characteristic red package.

Pocky was first sold in 1966. As the popularity of the snack increased, new varieties were added. By now there is such an enormous assortment of Pocky available that it is hard to know where to begin. Below is a picture of the Pocky aisle in a standard supermarket. You can see that other brands have also tried to benefit from the success of Pocky, by making their own Pocky clone.

different kinds of pocky in japan

This is my very inexpert attempt at merging two different photos to show you all the different kinds Pocky in a Japanese supermarket.

There is a Pocky for every demographic. Strawberry Pocky for the ladies, extra thin Pocky in a simple package for the men, and some very interesting varieties with almonds and with salty chocolate that I unfortunately did not get a chance to try yet. Next time I’m in Japan, I will do my best to further explore the world of Pocky!

Happy belated Pocky Day everyone!

strawberry Pocky in Japan

Strawberry Pocky. The hiragana reads ‘tsubatsuba ichigo’, which means strawberry with seeds. This is a classic, first offered on the Japanese market in 1977.

almond crush Pocky in Japan

Almond crush Pocky. Looks yummy! According to Wikipedia, this is another classic. It was the first new variety after classic Pocky, developed in 1971.

salty milk chocolate Pocky in Japan

Salty milk chocolate Pocky. I’m really curious about this one.

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The walking sausage

In Japan, you never know what you will see next. I know that I have used this sentence before, but that is because it perfectly describes life in Japan. In fact, if I had to summarize my year in Japan in one sentence, it would be just that: “you never know what you’ll see next”.

One Saturday afternoon in June, it was this funny guy in the supermarket. I am not even sure how I am supposed to call him (or her, or it?). I think I’ll go with ‘walking sausage’ at the moment. Feel free to submit ideas for a better name in the comments section. I also have no idea why there was a walking sausage in the supermarket. I imagine it is promoting some kind of product, but I have no clue which one.

walking sausage in a Japanese supermarket

The walking sausage. Funny how its eyes seem to stare straight at you, isn’t it?

At first I tried taking a sneaky photograph (without the sausage noticing that I was taking a photograph). But apparently its vision in that suit is better than one would think: it spotted me and started interacting with me. Thinking about it now, I am still not quite sure how it managed to interact with me without the use of limbs, facial expressions or words. But somehow it did! It was even willing to pose for photographs!

Walking sausage posing in Japan

The walking sausage posing for a photograph with some Japanese children

Discover the identity of the walking sausage in the next post, ‘Mystery sausage identified’.

So much sauce!

A trip to a Japanese supermarket is quite the adventure. The aisles are filled with unknown products. I feel especially overwhelmed when standing in front of the sauce stand. Any Japanese supermarket will have up to three aisles that are filled with nothing but sauce.

Sauce stand in a Japanese supermarket

Sauce stand in a Japanese supermarket

There are so many different kinds: a wide variety of soy sauce (dark, light, low salt, …), salad sauce, sauce with orange aroma, sesame sauce, sake derivates like mirin, … The list is endless. Liquids and sauces are the main condiments in Japan (as opposed to the West where we mostly use herbs). And of course I have no idea how to use most of these sauces. Even if you have come prepared and looked up a recipe beforehand, finding the sauce that the recipe requires can be quite a challenge, as most of the labels are written in kanji (chinese characters). To sum things up, facing this wall of sauce is both awe-inspiring and daunting at the same time.

tsuyu sauce in a Japanese supermarket

Most of these sauces are different brands of ‘tsuyu’ (つゆ), a dipping sauce for noodles

Ponzu sauce in Japanese supermarket

Another sauce stand, mostly ponzu (citrus sauce) and sushi vinegar

After returning to Belgium last month and seeing the selection of cheese in Belgian supermarkets, I imagine Japanese people living in Belgium must experience a similar sensation when being confronted with this vast array of cheese for the first time. How would they know the difference between young and aged gouda, or that camembert is actually supposed to smell like that. Some cheese is for cooking, other cheese is to put on bread. There is Italian cheese, French cheese, Dutch cheese, … There are so  many options, while most Japanese supermarkets only offer one kind of cheese: a very soft, synthetic cheese, with every slice in its individual plastic wrapper.

If you see a confused looking foreigner in the supermarket, desperately staring at the cheese stand (in Belgium) or at the sauce stand (in Japan), please rescue them! They need your help!

white cheese in a cheese shop in The Netherlands

A selection of white and blue cheese

dutch cheese in a cheese shop in The Netherlands

Different kinds of Dutch cheese in a cheese shop in The Netherlands

My Japanese cooking bible

Recently I’ve accepted the challenge of cooking Japanese meals at home.

I had been putting it off for quite some time but there was no escaping it anymore. While ‘just having moved to Japan’ is an excellent excuse to eat out a lot (read: every night), after two months it really was time to do some home cooking. And Western style home cooking is difficult because the ingredients are hard to find and when you do find them, they are quite expensive. So Japanese style cooking it is.

The first obstacle for home cooking in Japan is the supermarket. It’s an entire store filled with mostly unknown products. As if this assault on the senses isn’t enough, most of the product names and descriptions are in kanji (japanese characters). Try distinguishing sugar from salt while both are labeled with signs you can’t read. It makes me wish I had been a better kanji student before.

Fortunately I found a cooking book that’s been a lifesaver. It’s called ‘Recipes of Japanese Cooking’ and is written by Yuko Fujita. The special thing about this book is that it’s both in English and Japanese.

Cook book: Recipes of Japanese cooking by Yuko Fujita

Recipes of Japanese cooking by Yuko Fujita

Recipes for Japanese cooking katsu

The top half is in Japanese, the bottom half is in English

So if the recipe says to buy ‘cotton tofu’, I would normally be impossible for me to distinguish it from all the other kinds of tofu they have. Even if I knew how to say ‘cotton tofu’ in Japanese (momen-dofu), I would still not know how it’s written (木綿豆腐).

But with this book I just look on the top half of the page, see how it’s written in Japanese and compare the kanji with the product in the supermarket without even knowing how to pronounce it. It’s so convenient! I it weren’t for this book I would have to ask for help to find every single product. Or spend an hour every day looking up the translations and the subsequent kanji for the ingredients.

In addition to this great bilingual feature, the recipes in this book offer step by step detailed instructions and a lot of pictures. The book also covers basic information like the different kinds of miso, how to store rice and how to cook it (very basic knowledge that is often presumed to be innate), cooking techniques and information on seasonal ingredients.

You could probably find most of this information online. But I love having it all together in one convenient book. I recommend this book to anyone living an Japan and planning to do some home cooking.

The results so far:

homecooked oyakodon and miso soup

Oyakodon, marinated cucumber and miso soup with wakame and tofu

homecooked gyudon and pumpkin

Gyudon, simmered pumpkin and miso soup with wakame and tofu

I started with donburi (rice bowl dishes) because they seemed easier. For my third dish I tried something else:

homecooked niku dofu and eggplant

Niku dofu (meat and tofu), grilled eggplant, genmai (brown rice) and miso soup with turnip and fried tofu