By Joe DiStefano
A fews months ago Kit Kat simultaneously jumped on the pumpkin spice and Halloween bandwagons with the launch of pumpkin pie-flavored Kit Kats.
This reporter has declined to try them partly on principle and partly because they seem to be unavailable in his home borough of Queens, but mostly because of an obsession with a much, much more interesting take on the popular chocolate covered wafer treat: Japanese Kit Kats.
Sure, you’ve probably heard of and maybe eaten Nestlé Japan’s most popular variety, made from matcha green tea. It’s available in many Asian supermarkets throughout New York City.
In Japan, though, there are more than 200 flavors ranging from the mildly exotic like a tasty sounding brown sugar syrup version and Hokkaido melon with mascarpone cheese to the downright bizarre like cough drop and wasabi.
A recent visit to Teso Life in downtown Flushing — an emporium that sells Japanese beauty products, tchotchkes, and (yes) junk food — hit Japanese Kit Kat pay dirt. Next to the green tea variety were four others: one sporting cheery looking lemons; one with a bottle of sake, cherry blossoms, and the English “sakura Japanese sake;” one with a bowl of strawberry ice cream; and another with picture of a cute little bear and a confection of unknown provenance.
Let’s start with the one with the bear, it’s called ikinari dango, after a snack of sweet potato and red bean wrapped in mochi that’s popular in Kumamoto. It tastes pleasantly of both and the package notes that 10¥ of every sale will be donated to disaster relief in Kumamoto, which was devastated by earthquakes in 2016.
Profits from the lemony package also go toward Kumamoto, but it has a slightly more unusual flavor—Setouchi Shio ando Lemon (Setouchi Sea Salt and Lemon). It was released in Japan as an Okinawan specialty and is oddly refreshing, calling to mind the popular Japanese lemon soft drink C.C. Lemon. It is quite nice chilled as is the one with the strawberries, which turns out to be Sutoroberii Chiizukeki Aji, or Strawberry Cheese Cake.
Last but not least, Sakura Nihonshu or Sakura Japanese Sake bears a yeasty sweetness and hint of anise that’s reminiscent of a fine sake.
A quick call to the Sunrise Mart (12 East 41st St., Manhattan) a chain of popular Japanese markets reveals that in addition to stocking all of the above varieties they also carry blueberry, melon, and peach mint.
Unfortunately neither Teso nor Sunrise Mart stocks what this Kit Kat aficionado considers to be the holy grail of Japanese flavors Cranberry Almond or Kuranberi Almond Kit Kat. Its dark chocolate coating topped with toasty almonds and chewy sweet bits of cranberry gives way to the crunchy wafer, a bit of autumnal bliss that I share with my family for Thanksgiving.
“When I was a kid, there was only one flavor, the standard one—chocolate,” said Kazuko Nagao, a Japanese food expert and founder of PecoPeco, a Japanese language web site devoted to New York City’s culinary scene. “These various flavors really worked in Japan because Japanese people love to buy regional specialties when they travel, since we have such a strong souvenir culture.
All of the Japanese Kit Kats this reporter has purchased in New York City have been bags of minis. Whichever flavor you manage to find don’t give them out to the little ghouls and goblins for Halloween, save them to eat with friends during more grown up festivities. Best of all, they’re available year round. Oh, and in case, you’re wondering Kit Kat Japan does have a Halloween flavor this year. It’s apple pie.