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volume 3 issue 5

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Animefringe Editorial:
Confections of the Heart
By Jake Forbes

Pocky, Ramune, Choco Balls, Yan Yan, Every Burger, Melty Kiss, Hello Kitty chocolate biscuits, Fran, and not to mention, Pocari Sweat. We otaku get our own unique cornucopia of tasty snacks- how cool is that?! What other fan group gets it's own cuisine? Well, Trekkies do have Quark's Bar and Grill, with such wonderful dishes as the Flaming Ribs of Targ and Isolinear Chips and Dip, but you have to go to the Las Vegas Hilton to eat it. Otaku munchies are available at Asian grocery stores nationwide (and increasingly at the big-chain supermarkets as well). But accessible as they may be, they still come at a premium. So what is it about these snacks that Otaku would forsake Frito Lay, Hershey's, and Coca Cola to have them?

1) Novelty: Otaku ride the fine line between when things are mainstream in Japan and when they break through in the US. As American companies look for innovations in Japan, there's a window of time when only the most hardcore are in the know, and that's when otaku strike. The idea of putting a marble in the neck of a bottle of soda might seem like madness, but after drinking a few cases of Ramune, an otaku knows it's only a matter of time before Sprite changes their motto to "Obey the Marble."

2) Presentation: Some candies come packaged with charm jewelry, some come in edible wrappers, some come in handy dispenser packaging. A Japanese consumer must balk at the idea of a simple bag of Skittles with no resealing mechanism or collectible trinket. One of my favorite new packages is for Hello Kitty chocolates in the "classic collection," featuring antique packaging circa 1930. Now I could be wrong, but I don't believe there were Hello Kitty chocolates in 1930.

3) Texture: In America, we like our candies chewy or crunchy. In Japan, they like them slimy, puffy, waxy, smooshy, melty kissy, and cardboard. Sometimes I wonder if Japanese consumers actually like the textures of their candies, or if it was a necessary decision to make candies shaped like hamburgers. Some salty snack crackers look like they'll have the consistency of a cheeto, but end up dissolving in your mouth like a biodegradable packing peanut. But while some textures are just plain weird, others are incredibly addicting. There's something about biting into a Pocky, that moment of softness as your incisors slice through the chocolate coating before hitting the cracker, that's like heaven on earth. The idea of slurping a fruit gels, those little jello packs with a piece of fake fruit in them, may gross you out at first, but once you get used to it, you can't stop eating them.

4) Taste: Once again we are struck by a bizzaro combination of genuine greatness and the perplexingly grotesque. The idea of seafood flavored snack food is quite common in Asia, but if you start trying shrimp puffs and other meaty crackers, you'll learn that not all are equal. Some will likely make you barf. Eat with caution. On the sweet side, Japanese chocolate is an enigma in itself. 99% of the time, it tastes like wax, almost completely tasteless and incapable of melting, but occasionally they hit some new combination of taste and texture that is absolutely wonderful. Melty Kisses, for example, taste like a combination of truffles and astronaut ice cream. Good stuff. But even the tastiest treats lack the full flavor of an American snack. As with more proper Japanese cuisine, milder, subtler flavor is usually better.

Can I honestly say that Japanese snack foods are the best in the world? Not a chance. But do I go to the Mitsuwa market to buy them every week? You bet I do? Some snacks, like Pocky and mochi ice cream, I can honestly say I love. Others I get so I can share their novelty with others. And over the years, I've come to really love things I though I could never stomach (teriyaki flavored nori strips). Like anime viewing, Japanese snacks are a communal experience. They are meant to be shared, discussed, laughed at, hoarded, traded, analyzed, and collected. Well, actually they're just made to be eaten, but a true otaku never takes anything at face value... at least not if it came from Japan.

My favorite snack of the moment is Boba Milk Tea. While not Japanese in origin, I much prefer the style made in the Japanese shops to the kinds in Chinatown or Korea town. Jasmine Green Tea with Boba from the Volcano Tea House is my favorite, and there's no better accompaniment than the Spicy Fried Chicken that is the sole item on their snack menu (VERY hot, with addictively good seasoning). I'll drive across town to get these a couple times a week, and judging from the crowds, I'm guessing I'm not alone. Boba's on the cusp of being mainstream in America, and if it does hit it big, perhaps I'll lose interest like I did with Gundam when it was on TV. But until then, I'll slurp up those tapioca balls like there's no tomorrow.

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