It's a sushi sets featuring a sushi omelet KitKat, a sea urchin sushi candy and a tuna sushi bar. (Shen Lu/MEDILL)

Japanese novelty food you wish you could get in Chicago

By Shen Lu

Tokyo — Chicago may be a foodie’s paradise, but the city has nothing on Tokyo when it comes to quirky, innovative food flavors.

Take KitKat, one of the most common American snacks, as an example.  In Japan, there are 300-plus gourmet flavors ranging from matcha and wasabi to butter and sake. There’s even a KitKat  museum.

Green tea — or matcha — is the country’s signature snack flavor. With spring around the corner, cherry blossom is likely to be the star flavor for March.

Many novelty food producers release limited seasonal flavors throughout the year. Meanwhile, the delicate, artistic packaging, influenced by minimalist aesthetics, appeals to design-conscious Japanese consumers.

A glimpse of Japanese packaging designs. (Shen Lu/MEDILL)
A glimpse of Japanese packaging designs. (Shen Lu/MEDILL)

KitKat’s fancy limited seasonal versions, often in special packaging, can cost dearly. A pack of 12 regular matcha KitKat bars were selling in Tokyo earlier this month for 300 yen ($2.66) at grocery stores, while a piece of luxury “Moleson” cost 540 yen ($4.79) at the high-end KitKat specialty shops.

“Moleson” is a regular KitKat chocolate base covered by a sprinkling of almonds and dried cranberries. (Shen Lu/MEDILL)

The company this month added a new wild flavor to its line-up – sushi. Its “sushi sets” were only available from Feb. 2 to 14, and were given out to the first 30 customers of the day who spent a minimum of 3,000 yen ($26.59) at Tokyo’s newest KitKat Chocolatory shop, located in Ginza.

Photo at top: A “sushi set” displayed at the Ginza KitKat speciality store in Tokyo. (Shen Lu/MEDILL)