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10 snacks and drinks you must try if you visit Japan.

Japan FlagIt can be hard to find long term product continuity in Japan. Due to the Japanese market's desire for novelty, there are few snack products that stay on the shelves for very long before being replaced with some new special edition of something else. However, there are a few that seem to be long stayers so the list below contains things that have been constantly available for at least 12 months and with any luck, for a lot longer. With the exception of Mos Burger (which has it's own outlets) you can find all of the other items below in most convenience stores in Japan, and you certainly won't have any problem finding the stores. In big cities like Tokyo and Osaka you'll find either an am-pm, 7/11, circle K or Lawson Station store about every 10 minutes whilst walking.

1) Calorie Mate block

Calorie MateMost pharmacy/cosmetics shops sell the popular “health” food called Calorie Mate, distinguished by its mustard coloured “generic” looking packaging. I'm not sure why it features so strongly in these shops, as nearly everything else they sell is for the outside of your body. Calorie Mate is a bit like Scottish shortbread fingers (you know, the ones that come with extra tartan). A finger sized stick, but a little bit softer and less biscuity. It comes in a variety of flavours, some good (chocolate, fruit), some not so good, (vegetable, potato). I would recommend buying a little, however despite the name it is not your "mate", because you can see from the back of the packet just how many calories it has contained within even one stick.

Vegetable flavour biscuit is just not on though. Chocolate flavour on the other hand.. well, I just can't think of a tastier way to bulk up and get fat quickly.

2) Toharto Habanero snack

Toharto HabaneroIf there's one Japanese snack I wish they'd introduce the UK, then Toharto's Habanero is it. There are a variety of these available, most of which are special editions - different packets, shapes and colours. But there are several constants: black packet, an evil looking chili face on the front, flames all around and all are hot enough to melt a brass door knob just by looking at it. They are flavoured with the world's hottest chilli, the habanero. Be afraid. But do try, and have some water handy or preferably some Suntory Premium Malts beer.

3) Lipovitan Health/Energy drink

LipovitanThe taste of Lipovitan reminds me of some Star Wars sweets I had as a kid. It seems to remind other people of medicine - a nice medicine in some cases. It is certainly unusual, but good. It contains (in Japanese) a whole rack of elements all of which I guess are calculated to either be good for you, or to give you more energy, or possibly both. I don't know whether it worked or not. How can you tell? There's no Zen like option to both take it and not take it.

Livovitan is certainly not something you can drink in large quantities however. It's a drink alright, but it's not a refreshing drink. There are many similar products also available, but this one is for me, the best one. Look out for the Ginseng ones as well however - in a gold metal bottle.

4) Nissin Cheese Curry instant noodles

Nissin Cheese CurryWe have Pot Noodles in the UK, but Korea, China and Japan produce things so much better and in this case, so much more inventive. Only in Asia would someone think "you know what this curry needs? ... some cheese on the top". But it works. Boy does it work. The noodle base sauce itself is good enough, but why not combine two delicious things from two cultures. European cheese and Asian noodles. I just love curry and I love cheese. How good can this get?

In fact the only poor thing about Nissin's products is the lame styrofoam "cup" they come in. These are so easily damaged when you have 10 of them jammed into a suitcase, or they find themselves at the bottom of a large bag of shopping. You can transfer the contents to a bowl, but then that destroy the noodles natural presentation of being in a cup.

5) Pocari Sweat

Pocari SweatMany laughs have been had at the expense of this drink's name. It frequently shows up on websites of bizzarely named foreign products, and ranks right up there with "Cock soup" for things that sound like you really don't want to put them anywhere near your mouth. However, not so much is written about the flavour. Pocari Sweat is to Japan what (I guess) Lucozade is to the UK. However unlike Lucozade, it's not fizzy and it's not filled with somthing that makes a radioactive orange colour. Pocari Sweat looks like slightly cloudy water and the taste is quite subtle, but hard to describe. And why Sweat? This is an after-excercise drink. "to replace your sweat" - with this ionised water. Nice idea, nice drink, shame about the name. And the can looks like Pepsi, somehow.

It's also possible to buy flat powder mix packets of Pocari Sweat which are a lot easier and lighter to transport back in a travel bag.

6) Every Burger (and other variations of the same thing)

Every BurgerBurgers are good. Biscuits are good. Why not combine them? Just another in a list of bizzarely shaped Japanese snacks, such as gummi sushi and chocolate mushrooms. The burger here is chocolate and the bun is biscuit.. about as healthy as a real burger and just as good.

Like so many Japanese snacks, this one is exquisitly packaged, with a cleverly folding box with printing on both the outside and the inside, and each "burger" is individually wrapped as well. So many of the snacks available have some sort of clever folding resealable system on the box. I can only imagine Japanese snacking habits are substantially different. In the west, this box will be consumed in one sitting. There's no need for reseal, it just won't last that long.

7) Suntory Premium Malts Beer

Suntory Premium MaltsThere are many beers available in Japan, and I have tried quite a few. Kirin, Asahi, Sapporo.. I found them all nothing special. However this one is something else. I would put this in my top 3 beers along with Czech Starobrno and Thai Singha. If you like those, you'll like this. What a pity it is not one of the beers imported into the UK. Hey Suntory, are you listening? Bring this to Europe, it will compete. A special mention here also goes to Suntory Whisky - whilst I have little knowledge about whisky, I can say from experience that Suntory 17 year old whisky is pretty smooth and warming.

8) Ozeki One-cup Sake

Okeki One Cup SakeI tried Sake on my first trip to Japan, and didn't care for it. Perhaps I should have not tried the type from a cardboard carton with a straw. Determined to try it again, I found this stuff in a local Lawson Station convienience store. There are a few type of low cost one serving sake and this one seems pretty good. I'm not quite sure why it's called rice wine, as Sake is more like a spirit than a wine. One of these cups is stong enough to send me to sleep.

9) Mos Burger

Mos BurgerMos Burger is Japan's equivalent to McDonalds. There are differences though. The menu is more varied than McDonalds, and there is a much wider range of items on it, some of which contain items such as seaweed and rice cake burgers. The tradtional beef, salad and bun burgers are also present though. They still arrive a bit limp in cardboard box much like McD or Burger King, however the taste is nothing like either of those, and a whole different burger experience.

You can check out the Mos English language website at I am pleased to see that Mos now have outlets in Singapore, Hong Kong and Thailand.

10) Meiji Meltykiss chocolate.

Meiji MeltykissVying with many other snacks for "most obvious misunderstanding of English ", Meltykiss is actually a pretty good description for this chocolate. It melts quite quickly in your mouth and is so smooth and tasty it's like a perfect kiss. The best chocolate in Japan.

Most honourable mentions:

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Copyright © M.F.Hughes 2008

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