Showdown: Galbo Cube Vs. Galbo Ball

In the world of Japanese confectionery, two titans loom over the landscape, battling for the hearts and minds of dessert lovers. They are Galbo Cube and Galbo Ball.

(Crunky, in case you are wondering, belongs to a parallel universe all of its own, and cannot be directly compared with other chocolate based snacks.)

In trying to explain the differences between GC and GB, one naturally thinks of the Beatles. Galbo Cube is like John Lennon: brilliant, multi-layered and a little bit edgy. Galbo Ball is more like Paul: well-rounded, popular with old people, and possessing a gooey chocolate centre. Okay, I’m not so sure about that last comparison, but you get the point.

As you would expect, opinions vary as to which is the superior snack. In Japan this is no laughing matter. Arguments are heated, and several duels have been fought — resulting in serious injury and in one case even death — between zealots on both sides.*

Moon Tan and I sat down one Sunday night to see if we could get to the bottom of this ancient feud. We fired up a movie and ripped the top off a packet full of each contender.

It was extremely difficult to pick winners. Moon Tan was drawn to the enhanced sweetness of the Galbo Balls like a moth to a flame. I think the extra sweetness shows that the Balls are trying too hard — if they were truly confident in their own abilities, they wouldn’t have to be so quick to assault the palette with a cheap sugar hit. Personally, I was dazzled by the texture of the Cubes, which is both crunchy and layered. The Cubes are deep, metaphorically and spacially, whereas the Balls seem as though they’re circles trying to pass off as spheres. Once the crunchy outer layer has been pierced, one finds oneself in a wasteland of semi-fluid chocolate-flavoured sludge.

Having said all of that, it really was a close call. Summary: Moon Tan likes Balls, I’m fond of Cubes. Why not recreate this taste test yourself, and let us know what you think? It’ll only cost you JPY200 (although you will have to be in Japan to play…)

– Tamago

 

* This is not in the least bit true.

Sunday afternoon in Yoyogi Park

Is insane.

Imagine a music festival, the post-Christmas sales at David Jones, a Wiggles concert, the Clipsal and Australia Day at the beach all rolled into one and you will begin to approach a slight understanding of what Yoyogi Park on any given Sunday from April to October is like.

The crowd is just as diverse and it is just as insane.

Tamago and I unwittingly and delightfully stumbled across this phenomenon only recently. Up until now, it has been the dead of winter in Tokyo (see earlier blog post) so we haven’t been venturing out much. But at long last the weather has finally turned and we have had some days where the top has been in the double figures! We decided to take advantage of the sunshine and have a relaxing picnic in Yoyogi Park.

Or so we thought.

We emerged from the packed train and were immediately gobsmacked by the sheer amount of bodies in such a small space. Harajuku station was a zoo and Takeshita Street (the main drag) was ridiculous. We shoved our way through to Tamago’s favourite takoyaki shop (if you want to know what takoyaki is click here) and spent a fascinating 15 minutes standing in line watching the deft hands of the shop owners make hundreds of takoyaki. Of course when we started waiting in line, we only wanted four, but by the time we got to the front of the line we ordered 16. I’m sure there’s some kind of exponential maths equation that could explain this. Something like time spent waiting multiplied by original number desired to the power of the deliciousness of the smell.

 

Anyway, that mission completed, we clutched our takoyaki like a trophy and slowly made our way to Yoyogi Park. The first thing we saw was this:

Yes. Rock and rollers in the park. They didn’t seem terribly organised. There was no performance per se and no routine to speak of. They were just dressed up and boogieing down. Completely assured that they were contributing to the general happiness of everyone else. And they sure were.

We made our way into the park and found a patch of lawn to sit on. Being gaijin, we hadn’t got the memo about bringing a picnic blanket. But also being gaijin, that didn’t really phase us. We plonked down amongst hundreds of groups of people sitting on blankets, eating, playing games and just revelling in the sunshine.

Oh and:

Women in incredible outfits that I would only wear to job interviews were slipping off their stilettos and plonking themselves onto blue tarps. Young men were skipping with giant skipping ropes. Mothers and sons were playing badminton. It was awesome chaos.

Tamago with his takoyaki!

After we finished our takoyaki, Tamago and I took a stroll through the park and soaked up the atmosphere.

Space is at a hugely high premium in Tokyo so people tend to get together with recreational groups to practice in the park because it’s free! We saw girls doing baton twirling routines on a bike path, old men practicing kendo under the cherry blossoms and even a bunch of people dancing in a thick clump of trees in strange Rocky Horror-esque costumes and filming the whole proceedings.

Japan is weird. This is not news.

We wandered past some stunning flowerbeds:

Plus a couple of dog parks. We spent a good 20 minutes gawking at the dogs and deciding which one we would most like to dognap. The highlight for me was the man with two Saint Bernards. To state the obvious: these are freaking enormous dogs. Like, you need a small farm to have one in Australia. So the million dollar question is: WHERE IS HE KEEPING THE SAINT BERNARDS WHEN THEY’RE NOT AT THE PARK??

Possibly the coolest part of our afternoon in Yoyogi Park was this:

That’s right. He’s holding a giant bubble wand. Kids and adults alike were going nuts. As far as we could tell, the bubble man was not getting paid for this service. He was just in the park making bubbles for the masses. What a champ.

Christmas Day

Merry Belated Christmas everyone! We hope you all had a fabulous Christmas Day and that you all ate too much, got spoiled rotten with presents and enjoyed spending time with your family and friends.

Tamago and I had a very successful Christmas together here in Tokyo. A couple of weeks ago we got a tip-off from one of Tamago’s students that you could get Cooper’s beer at a certain mythical supermarket in Tokyo, so a few days before Christmas we went to investige Nissin World Delicatessen in Roppongi. This supermarket is located in the notorious foreigner district in Tokyo. In addition to the bars and clubs it’s famous for, Roppongi and the surrounding area is where a lot of foreign embassies are located (including Australia). Also, incidentally it’s a good spot to go for a gaijin keitai, if the Softbank near the train station has any left. The staff there speak English!

Anyway back to Nissin. As I was saying it’s located in the foreigner district. As soon as Tamago and I got inside we felt right at home. To begin with there were several Australian mums doing their Christmas food shopping with some very cute kids in tow. Considering how few foreigners we see in our daily lives, it was very tempting to give everyone I saw a huge hug. I managed to keep myself under control and amazingly we found everything we needed for our Christmas feast at this supermarket. We could even have had an Aussie steak if we’d wanted, but we decided to embrace Japan even at Christmas time and bought the biggest hunk of Waygu beef I have ever seen in my life for our Chrissy dinner. We also found TimTams, Lady Grey tea in bulk and Western food in general that is just hard to get hold of in average Japanese supermarkets. It was predominantly American brands but some Australian ones were nestled in there which was nice to see. We ventured up to the liquor store level and found Cooper’s beer, some cider for me and even some decent Australian wine.

Tamago and I had an excellent lazy Christmas Day. We got up late and opened presents from each other and from friends and family. Then we had a fabulous bacon and egg brunch cooked by Tamago. Just because we’re not at home being force fed by various branches of families doesn’t mean we didn’t eat big. After that we had to recover for a couple of hours and watched a DVD. We also spoke to our far away families via Skype which was very special and it made it feel like we were still a part of everyone’s day.

After this it was about 5:30 and we still weren’t hungry enough to do dinner justice so we went for a walk up to Shinjuku to check out the scene at KFC, it was pretty busy and there were KFC employees brandishing fried chicken in plastic bags trying desperately to get us to eat there but we resisted. I still kind of want to grab people by the shoulders here and explain to them that no self respecting Westerner would eat KFC on Christmas, but then I realise I’d have to mime the killing and eating of lambs to depict my perfect Christmas dinner and the urge fades.

After we’d worked up a bit of an appetite we trundled back home and cooked our dinner: Waygu steak! As Tamago said, it was the first piece of meat he’d had in Japan that actually required a knife and fork. It was excellent and well worth the walk in the cold.

Finished off the day with some Christmas themed Father Ted. A perfect Tokyo Christmas.

 

Chocopie

I’m massively into sugar. Chocolate in particular but cake comes in at a close second. Preferrably chocolate cake. I’m not addicted to coffee, or alcohol, or heroin, online gambling or long distance running (ha!). But I do need a certain amount of sugar buzzing through my bloodstream to function like a decent human being. Tamago doesn’t have the same problem luckily for us or we probably would have broken up years ago. Probably because of TimTams (why do they put 11 in the packet? Prime numbers = evil). However he does enjoy the odd sweet.

One of the most important things that I needed to do in Japan was suss out the dessert situation. Sadly for me, Tamago didn’t feel drawn to Belgium (home of the world’s finest chocolate) or Paris (the chocolate croissant) or even England (mmm pudding). Nope he had a yen for the land famous for raw fish and rice.

Fortunately Tamago and I have discovered the Chocopie. This may be the thing that saves our relationship from certain doom. They’re kind of like an obese Wagon Wheel. They are coated in chocolate and contain marshmallow filling – as you can see from the helpful diagram that features prominently on the packaging:

The really intriguing thing about the Chocopie lies in the biscuity/cakey substance that provides the sandwich for the marshmallow. We can’t figure out what it is. It’s soft, and not biscuit-like at all. But it holds its shape more than cake. Mystery. All we know is that we like it. A lot.

*Note: the Chocopie does come in other flavours. We have sampled the strawberry and it is terrible. We recommend sticking to the original and the best.

Mt Takao

Tamago had a day off the other day and since I’m not working yet we both had a day completely free. Those of you who know us know that we are extremely outdoorsy, we spend our weekends camping and downhill mountain biking. My preferred sleeping arrangement is a swag [great — I’ll set one up on the floor for you, and I’ll take the 1.5 bed! – Tamago]. Naturally, therefore, on our precious day together we elected to go and climb a mountain. Thankfully it is only about 599 metres tall.

Mt Takao is an hour away by train from Shinkuku train station, the main train station nearest to us. That is if you manage to catch an express train. If, on the other hand, you mistakenly catch the local train because you are a silly gaijin and you’re forced to stop at every single station on the way to Takaosanguchi Station (the train station nearest to Mt Takao) it takes about an hour and forty minutes. Give or take.

When we got to the station, it was really easy to figure out which way the walks were, we just followed the elderly Japanese hikers in their gigantic visors and walking shoes. There are English language as well as Japanese maps in the train station. So, ignoring the temptation of the Takao Trick Art Museum (with an Egyptian theme!) that was beckoning in the distance, we two intrepid walkers set off up Mt Takao.

There are several options available to you when you elect to walk up the mountain. If you have your elderly grandmother with you, you can catch the cable car halfway up and trundle along the gently sloping paths to the summit, if you’re hardcore like Tamago and Moon Tan, you can walk up the practically vertical pathway until it converges with the cable car crowd and becomes civilised. Otherwise,  if you’re suicidal you can take the chair lift halfway up.

Mt Takao is considered a sacred mountain and is associated with tengu, Japanese Shinto spirits. There are Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines at the summit of the mountain and smaller shrines along the way. I was particularly intrigued by the tiny statues of little sitting men (perhaps Buddha? But they didn’t seem chubby enough. I’m such a heathen). These statues were everywhere up and down the mountain, even on the tracks that weren’t main tracks. And every single one of them on the day we went was wearing a red or orange knitted beanie and a red or white bib. I love that someone has gone and dressed every single one of those guys. In Australia, someone would have lost the map of all the statues for sure.

One more thing I should mention, Mt Takao is such an unashamed tourist mecca that there are little food stalls, bars (yes bars!) and souvenir shops all the way up the main path. There is also a ‘Monkey Park’ where tourists can see monkeys. We gave the Monkey Park a miss but we did sample a ‘dango’, Japanese dumplings on a stick made from a chewy, slightly sweet paste and toasted so they had a crunchy, salty exterior. Very strange. We weren’t fans but lots of Japanese people were eating them with gusto so maybe our palates aren’t refined enough.

We had an excellent walk, the scenery was stunning, the temples were fascinating and it is unbelievable that such a lush and beautiful environment is only an hour outside of the biggest city in the world. Tamago and I ate our lunch at a rest stop halfway up the mountain and we had incredible views over Tokyo. There are several walks available that are all outlined in the brochure you can pick up at the train station. There are also a lot of maps along the pathways. There does seem, however, to only be one main path and the rest are all a little off the beaten track but still perfectly walkable for the able bodied individual. Tamago and I took an alternate route down the mountain and stumbled across a waterfall and a little shrine to some cave gods. We went at the end of one of the latest autumns Tokyo has ever experienced, at the beginning of December. To see the autumn colours in the future I would recommend playing it safe and visiting a little earlier in the season.

A highly recommended day trip.

What would Nigella do?

I think Nigella Lawson is amazing. Any woman who can make drinking tea in a dressing gown look sexy is an inspiration. In her cookbooks, she writes that all cream used in recipes is double cream unless otherwise specified (it’s never otherwise specified). She endorses using shop bought pastry for pies. She believes in buying disposable containers to cook messy puddings in. If it there existed a religion that worshipped her chocolate brownies I would be the high priestess.

A girl has to have her heroines.

So only a half a week into this little venture, Tamago and I have settled into some semblance of a routine. Because Tamago is at work in the evenings teaching English to cranky Japanese businessmen, I, Moon Tan, the ‘little woman’, the wee Australian lass, am left to take care of dinner. Not under pain of death or anything, Tamago has said on numerous occasions that I don’t have to cook. But I can only stare at my Japanese and TEFL textbooks for so long before I have to scream. So I have taken it upon myself to have a crack at using our little kitchen. Initially I thought, “no problem, I cook at home in Australia all the time. I’m no Nigella Lawson sure, but I have definitely cooked edible, and some have even said tasty, food in the past”.

So a few days ago I set off on my first excursion to the Japanese supermarket down the road with a list in my pocket, a spring in my step and hope in my heart.

Foolish foolish Moon Tan.

For starters pretty much everything in Japanese shops is labelled in Japanese. Shocker. I wasn’t sure if I was buying cooking oil or vinegar, sugar or salt, pork or cat (for the record, I elected for neither in this case). For seconders, there is a lot of food that I have absolutely no idea of how to cook. Sardines for example – who knows how to cook sardines?? No-one from where I come from that’s for sure. I’m sure Nigella has a recipe but even I have some doubts about her ability to make tiny little beady eyed fish appetising.

There are a few familiar faces in the aisles of the supermarket however. Old El Paso has indeed taken over the world and taco kits are available for purchase at my local supermarket. There are also packets of pasta and jars of bolognaise sauce available which was immensely exciting. These two revelations alone will ensure we won’t starve. I even found Milo, which was hellishly expensive and lastly, and perhaps the most comforting thing of all, nestled between the powdered green ocha (Japanese tea) and the instant coffee I discovered a navy blue box containing a variety of Twinings teas. Lady Grey, English Breakfast and even Darjeeling. Nigella would have been proud.

Tonight I’m going to try my hand at Nigella’s very own Spanish omelette recipe, Japanese style. If it’s not a complete disaster, pictures may follow…