This is the Natural Lawson right across the street from my apartment. I'd like to take a picture from the balcony later.

Tokyo is a very convenience city. No, not convenient, it’s way too huge and has too may rules and people to be convenient, but there are a hell of a lot of convenience stores. I used to be able to walk to about six different convenience stores from my house in under a minute, then the big flashy familymart shut down. Anyways, the closest convenience store to my place is Natural Lawson, it’s right across the street. Natural Lawson is part of the Lawson franchise, which is, in my opinion, the most versatile and creative brand of conbini in Japan, and probably the world. I have seen regular Lawson, Natural Lawson, 100 Lawson (for the poor students), Postal Lawson (in the 24hr post office), “fruits and veggies” Lawson, “pharmacy” Lawson, and probably some others that I have forgotten about. Natural Lawson is the high-end member of the family.

I never cared much about the overpriced gourmet chips and chocolates, and the fact that I could find many of the same products that are sold in regular convenience stores kind of led me to believe that it isn’t really natural, just kind of….fancy? So, when I moved into my current place, I wasn’t too excited about living across the street from this place, until I checked out the fresh baked goods area, which they call, for some reason “confectionery.” They actually bake the stuff (buns, breads, pies, BAGELS, etc) on the premises, which I do not think is the case with all Natural Lawsons. They sell two kinds of bagels: plain and cheese. I tried the cheese and fell in love right away. Yes, I fell in love with a bagel. These delicious delicious cheese bagels became a major staple in my diet. I would buy them late at night on the way home to eat for breakfast the next morning. They could be eaten plain, no cut, no smear. They were big and fluffy, with just the right amount of orange cheddar cheese. This really was a great time in my life. I grew accustomed to living across the street from delicious bagels, and then one day, a few months into current economic crisis thing, yet still without warning, the cheese bagels morphed into these nasty looking fake cheese covered blobs. The cheese was obviously the cheap crap kind of kife that is part plastic and doesn’t melt properly. I figured it was temporary, or maybe the regular baker was off sick or something. I kept checking the “confectionery” case day ofter day, but the good cheese never came back.

One day, I was feeling compassionate, or perhaps just kind of brave. They continued to sell these bagels month after month; who was buying them anyways? So, I bought one. It was chewy and nasty and I ended up eating around the cheese and wanting to barf, and cry. So, I am definitely never eating a cheese bagel from Natural Lawson again. This whole tragic turn of events did lead me to go on and try the plain bagel, which didn’t seem to change at all.

Natural Lawson bagel bracelet

Those things are big! I decided to try one on. The cheese ones are also big, but they had a yummy cheese plug in the hole, that was the best part. The plain ones just look weird and aren’t conducive to sandwich building or even to smearing, really. Taste, overall, was fine, but the size of the whole, and the plain-ness are kind of a turn off. Haven’t been a repeat yet, despite being able to see them from my bedroom.

These bagels get 10 “meh”s out of 12

JUNOESQUE-apades

November 26, 2009

The Junoesque pumpkin bagel. I also tried black sesame and green soy bean.

Junoesque is not without its faults, but it still ranks as one of my favourite bagels in Tokyo. They apparently started in Jyugaoka in 1998, which is where I had my first Junoesque experience. The Jyugaoka location has a large cafe which is about 8km from my apartment. I was really hankering for a bagel one Sunday morning, so we had a little jog over to Jyugaoka. I hate jogging, but the bagel cafe was like a carrot dangling before my eyes and was a great motivation to get there faster. When we finally got there, there was a wait for a table. Being very hungry and kind of sweaty and tired, this was not a good thing. So I admired the bagels for sale to take home (not individually wrapped liked most other bagels in Japan), and read the newspaper until we got seated.

Junoesque has a solid menu with a lot of meal set options. I got a warm vegetable salad set with a poppy seed and strawberry cream cheese (didn’t bring the camera jogging, sorry). I would have really liked it if the bagel arrived at the table pre-shmeared, but other than that, the meal rocked! The atmosphere in the cafe is pretty nice, if not a bit too elegant for bagel eating. This kind of brings me to the name which bother me for two reasons: 1) I always want to say “Junesco”, and 2) the word means a “shapely woman” or “statuesque”…it’s too much. They certainly are proud of the name though, and they brand it onto every ‘gel. It seems  a bit abusive, but it’s a nice branding touch..haha, OK, anyways…

They sell these bagels in some upscale grocery stores and they come in a lot of flavours(dominated by sweets). I find them regularly on sale at the Seijo Ishi in my nearest JP station, Ebisu. There are sold in packs of two, and they are expensive. The Ebisu Station store almost always has some with a reduced price, and I buy these and eat them fast of freeze them.

These are good bagels. 10 out of 12!

An Original Kosher Bagel?

November 24, 2009

frozen "Original Kosher Bagel" found near the bacon at Nissin supermarket in Azabu Juban

I don’t know how original this bagel is, and I am very skeptical about its kosher-ness. Japanese packaging is fun(ny), though often confusing and misleading since a lot of the copy is lifted straight off of foreign products. Claims of being high quality, organic, or in this case, kosher, are usually merely for visual appeal. Nothing is creditable if it’s in English on a Japanese package. Do certificates of kashrut usually go directly on the packaging? So odd.

I found this bagel in a freezer case in a fancy shmancy international supermarket in the posh-ish area of Tokyo known as Azabu-Juban. I heard recently that in the world of real estate, this is THE most valuable land in Tokyo. Anyways, the store is called Nissin. It’s a great store where you can find all sorts of great cheese and other imported treats. It has a reputation for meat, which I don’t care much about, and their deli is the polar opposite of kosher. It’s full of nasty looking bologna type products. The bacon was within reaching distance of this kosher bagel. Has it been unkoshered by association?

So, after admiring this bagel’s packaging for a while, I did eat it, toasted up with butter. It tasted like a plain bagel that had been frozen and was probably not so tasty before it was frozen anyways. At least the overall shape of the bagel and the hole size made it sandwich-able, but at over ¥200 a pop, it’s totally not a repeat.

3 out of 12

Nissin does also sell better looking bagels that even come with poppy seeds or sesame seeds on them which I will gladly report on soon.

Here is a picture of the original kosher bagel out of the package and somewhat thawed out.

looks better than it tastes

Vie de Where?

November 18, 2009

Clockwise from top-left: plain, blueberry, black sugar.

Vie de France is a chain of bakery shop cafes found all over Tokyo. Contrary to the name, this is a typical Japanese-style bakery (perhaps the name does imply that). Some locations have dining areas, including the one across the street from my first job in Japan where I spent many a morning psyching myself up to face another day as a McTeacher. I was surprised recently, I don’t know why, to see that this chain of bakeries had started selling bagels. I couldn’t help buying all varieties available. There was no poppy or sesame, and I was initially a bit dismayed to discover that the black sugar was black sugar, and not pumpernickel, or some other more appropriate bagel variety. Japanese baked goods tend to be sweet, so I got over the shock fairly quickly.

I posted the flash-less photo, as the one with flash resulted in way too much shine. The truth is that these bagels were all a bit greasy on the surface, which was weird and kind of unappetizing. Other than that they were pretty good. Fairly light, kind of chewy.

I normally wouldn’t choose to eat a plain bagel, but if you want to make a savoury sandwich with a Vie de France bagel, plain is obviously the way to go. Blueberry and black sugar were good toasted with butter, and I actually ended up preferring black sugar overall.

These bagels are OK. I give them 8 out of 12.