Generous relatives in Japan ship us goodies a few times a year and for this, I am deeply grateful. Tasting something from Japan is almost as good as being there, especially when an old favorite is nestled in the well packed box.
One of those endearing picks is the okashi or Japanese confectionary, pukupuku tai. Pukupuku is onomatopoeia for the sound of blowing bubbles with fishy lips. Tai or sea bream is a fish that is very prominent in Japanese culture.
Finds of the Day, Week, Year, Life!
How I came to discover pukupuku tai is due to two important facts. First, it is my solemn duty to sample candy, cookies, cakes and treats in a new country. Second, at that time in my Japan working life, my shift was noon to 9pm and having to go grocery shopping after a long day required a treat.
Every grocery store in Japan has a candy aisle that, without a hint of shame, markets aggressively to children. Humans that were once children and especially those denied candy by mean parents are not exempt from the lure. The cleverly placed packages, loud characters, colorful labels, tiny portions, and low prices easily trap even the most careful.
On that fateful day at my favorite small town grocery store, the candy aisle sucked me in. Duty took over and I got to work, searching for a treat to fill my need for sweet. Choco (chocolate flavour) pukupuku tai was a random purchase and I was far from disappointed.
Notice the pink fishy on the box in the picture above? Even better than the luck of finding chocolate flavored, wafer covered fish was stumbling across ichigo or strawberry ones.
After a grueling day marching up and stumbling down Mount Nantai in Tochigi Prefecture, sugar was in order. Hitoshi’s bro pulled into a rural grocery store and there was my beloved choco pukupuku tai beside its friendly sister, strawberry-chan.
A taste to swoon for
If I had to choose between the chocolate and strawberry flavors, it would be tough.
Both editions have similar qualities including great crunch on first bite and a light, airy filling that dissolves quickly. I love that the filling is consistent throughout with no empty pockets, even in the edges of the tail. There is also no chalky aftertaste.
The outer biscuit doesn’t have much flavor for me. Most of the taste comes from the filling and this is where the differences start.
The chocolate version has a solid, distinct flavor that isn’t sweet, especially when compared to Canadian treats. It tastes mostly bitter and even a little burnt, which is appealing. In fact, I want a second one immediately! As well, Japanese sweets and prepared foods can be surprisingly accurate in their smell and the choco pukupuku tai is no exception.
The taste of the strawberry edition is delicately sweet and reminds me of my beloved strawberry flavored milk from Japan. The smell is very sweet so the strawberry is better when I want more of a sugary sensation.
The Mystery of Fluctuating Stock
Why these fish were more easily found outside of major cities while living in Japan is still a mystery. Stock wavered at our local store in Tokyo and sometimes disappeared unexpectedly. When we left Japan, my brother-in-law presented me with a *box* of chocolate ones to enjoy and little did I know, this would be the last I would see for some time.
When we returned to Japan for visits, sometimes we could find the fish and sometimes not. Hitoshi’s family has had trouble tracking them down for me and were sure they were gone for good a while back. Fortunately, Hitoshi’s brother went to a food distributor and picked up three boxes to send our way.
If you live in Japan and know why pukupuku tai keep disappearing or are hard to find, let us know!
Have you tried this delectable treat? If not, do you want to now?