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.


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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.


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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.

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Saturday, July 29, 2017

Nissin Donbei Curry Udon Cup Noodle Review

One of the tastiest things I discovered about Japan was their curry.  The first time I visited I had only heard about Japanese curry and had never tasted it before.  It is a very popular dish to make at home and to eat in curry restaurants. There is a standard Japanese curry flavour, one that isn't like Indian curries, but there are obviously variations upon variations of any standard taste profile.

I ordered the Nissin Donbei Udon Curry Cup Noodle from Hobbylink.  It is what I would call a pretty regular tasting Japanese curry with a nice thick curry soup that is a little spicier than normal.  It has all of the flavour I like and is a nice warming dish of thick udon style noodles. 

The instant noodle bowl is a nice appealing yellow color to get you in the mood for curry!
The lid of the bowl of udon noodles.  The picture is a pretty good representation of what you are going to eat.
Nutritional information. This noodle has about 16 grams of fat.  Pretty standard for a cup / bowl of noodles.
Ingredients.
Directions.  Basically empty the pouches of dried toppings and soup base into the cup, fill with boiling water to the fill line, close the lid, and wait five minutes for the thicker noodles to hydrate properly.
You get a big satchet of freeze dried ingredients and another satchet of the curry soup stock.  You can see that the noodles are nice a thick.  They are flatter than a regular udon noodle though, and I'm sure that helps with the re-hydration.
Add all of the stuff into the bowl on top of the noodle block.
After sitting in the boiled water for 5 minutes, stir to make sure the curry is mixed properly.  You can see there are nice thick chewy noodles with pieces of ground meat, fried tofu, green onions, carrot, and potato.  There was the nice smell of the curry spices coming off of the soup. Yum.
Closeup of the noodles.
Another shot of the noodle soup.
This was a good tasting bowl of noodles that was very satisfying with the thick udon noodles.  I'm still kind of partial to the regular Nissin Curry Cup Noodle, which I think is the standard that everything is compared to, but this was definitely good.
Regular Big Curry Cup Noodle.


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Thursday, July 27, 2017

Nissin Bowl Noodles Tonkotsu Wakayama Style Review

Nissin keeps pumping out the instant noodles for global enjoyment.  I'm a little behind on posting so here is one from a few months back.  This time, I'm talking about a deluxe tonkotsu bowl ramen with dried, not fried noodles.

I have to say the packaging for cup noodles in Japan is pretty nice as you can see from the picture below.  The nicer packaging is because the instant noodles can have a premium cachet that exists in Japan and not elsewhere much of the time.  Instant noodles are not just a cheap food in Japan.  If you've been to Japan you know that even their fast food is usually a cut above what you can get at home for quality and flavour which are really important to the Japanese.  This competitiveness also applies to their instant noodles.
This Tonkotsu Wakayama style ramen shows a delightful picture of noodles in a rich looking soup. It is a pork and soy based soup with thin noodles that is so good that people line up in Wakayama for it.  After having it, I'd say it is pretty good with a nice pork broth that wasn't too thick or thin.  It was quite enjoyable and I kind of wish I had another.  I got this one at Hobbylink, but this is probably a limited edition like so many things in Japan.  So, look for the next limited edition if you can't get your hands on it.
Cup noodle for a size comparison against the noodle bowl.
A closeup of the lid.  The whole thing comes shrink wrapped and the bowl shape sure gives it the appeal of a real bowl of ramen.
Some side details with ingredients and nutritional information.  The side of the bowl is finished in a glossy printe so it looks like a really nice looking bowl even if it is Styrofoam.
You get a lot of stuff in one of these deluxe noodle bowls.  There is the powdered soup base in the black satchet.  There is the tonkotsu/soy deep flavour liquid/paste satchet in the green, a piece of dried pork, and a satchet with dried veggies and fish stick.
Another view of the ingredients.
You can tell the noodles are air dried from how they look.
I added the ingredients into the bowl and added boiling water for four minutes.
The noodles rehydrated nicely along with the vegetables.  You need to give it a good stir to make sure all of the flavours are mixed together.  There was a nice pork and soy aroma coming off of the soup.
Closeup of the noodles.  Ingredients in this ramen inclused a slice of pork, bamboo shoots, green onion, and the flower shaped fish stick.  All very nice and I quite enjoyed the flavour of the soup.  It was nicely balanced with lots of flavour.  The noodles had a nice firm chewy texture that you just don't get with the fried noodles.
Here I am enjoying my noodle outside in the yard where I was watching my cat.
Wakayama city in eastern Japan specializes in a mix of thinner shoyu broths from eastern Japan combined with thicker pork bone broths from western Japan. The city created a tasty fusion of both styles of ramen with thin noodles.  In Japanese surveys, this style of ramen places highly on the tasty list.  In fact, one Wakayama city family shop, Ide Shoten became nationally famous in 1998 when it placed as the most delicious ramen in Japan on TV Champion, in a high-profile new years day broadcast.  New years is a big time in Japan and TVs are on in every home that day.  A ramen boom was triggered in the city after this and even today there are long lines waiting to get into this restaurant.


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