When visiting or staying in Japan, any ex-pat knows that chocolate is one of a list of things you’re likely to miss. The familiarity of scoffing down a well-known sugary treat is a distinctive comfort, and it’s notable that every nationality has a somewhat different idea of what constitutes a good chocolate bar – case in point, no one but the English seem quite so fond of Cadbury’s, whereas Americans prefer their Hershey’s, the Swiss their Lindt, the Greeks their ION and Lacta.
In Japan, it’s hard to know what to expect. In a culture where you can find edible dancing squids, fried chicken cartilage on skewers, and of course the notorious natto, what makes for the average candy bar? I imagine I’m missing out a fair few favourites, but here are a list of twenty you can pick up in your local 7/11 that are well worth a taste.
The name alone is as kawaii as they come. So-called, not for its compact boxes that open like pockets, but to mimic the sound of the snap as you bite into them, “Pocky” is effectively a very long and lanky equivalent of a Fingers biscuit. They’re not entirely covered in chocolate – there’s a blank “handle” at the end, very practical for holding them without getting your fingers sticky (the Japanese penchant for cleanliness at work). Extremely easy to cart around to snack on throughout the day, Pocky comes in a number of flavours, including green tea, honey, banana and coconut.
These little square biscuits are coated in chocolate, and each has a remarkably intricate picture of a boat engraved on them that looks like something out of the Spanish Armada’s fleet. They’re incredibly tasty and worth a try, though it does feel strange to be chomping away at what feels effectively like a miniature work of art.
The concept of Dars chocolate goes back a long way (over a century) and has taken all manner of forms in its time. Available in both white and dark chocolate versions and in virtually every conbini, the packaging again makes use of a cardboard pocket, which means you can cart it around without it melting all over you, ideal for Japan’s hot and humid Summers.
Foreigners will immediately make the connection with Japan’s Meiji era, which might strike us as strange – in the UK, there are Lion bars and Curly Wurlys but no “Elizabethan” or “Victorian” bars as of yet. I’d vouch that Meiji is a classy name for a snack, with bars offering thin, delicate, delicious slabs of milk chocolate: the closest you’ll get to Cadbury’s this side of the planet.
5. Ghana Chocolate
A great chocolate bar, the Lotte Ghana bars are of course named for the country, notably the world’s second-largest exporter of cocoa beans. There’s a creamy texture to it, which has made it exceptionally popular in both Korea and Japan. Alongside the “Milk Chocolate” and “Mild Cacao” bars, you can also opt for a “Black Ghana” bar, with a richer flavour and extra cacao. The packaging’s sleek and enticing too.
The name, along with the disproportionately large glass of wine and the bunch of grapes on the box, suggest that one bite of this pink-packaged treat will have you inebriated in minutes. Open the box and you’ll find two long rectangular bars encased in silver paper, as well as a rather potent smell of alcohol. The booze content is relatively high for a chocolate bar at 3.7%, so delicious though it may be, it’s probably best not to eat this one whilst at work…
7. & Dark
The design of this bar’s packet, with the giant golden ampersand and the enticingly mystical appearance of two apricots is enough to make anyone want to part with their cash and try it. Inside, you’ll find each bar encased in shiny gold paper. The smell of apricot is actually more overpowering than the taste, but it’s still delicious. Put frankly, it feels like chocolate for grown-ups – sophisticated and elegant. It’s also not just limited to apricots, there’s a strawberry one that’s well worth a taste too.
8. Country Ma’am Hot Oven Brownie
A pint-sized, square and extremely tasty chocolate brownie, complete with miniature currants. Delicious.
Not a far cry from the US’s Crunch bars, the peculiarly-named Crunky chocolates feature some much smaller crunchy pieces inside, a little like Rice Krispies. You can find them in bars and also small lumps, a bit like Maltesers. Each bar includes some handy instructions to help you open the package neatly. Crunky offers a wide range of flavours, including strawberry, cookies and cream, bitter chocolate and that intrinsically Japanese favourite, green tea.
10. Tirol Chocolate
This tiny cube of chocolate is a layer of dark chocolate with a chewy coffee nougat interior. Available from convenience stores and even some pharmacies.
11. Tirol - Milk
A small cube of milky chocolate with a white chocolate interior. Each cube has a picture engraved on it that looks like something out of a child’s storybook, like a house or a plane.
12. Tirol - Kinako Mochi
These tiny cuboid chocolates are made from mochi, a Japanese rice cake. In making mochi, glutinous rice is pounded into a paste and moulded into different shapes. This small chocolate bar contains a piece of mochi encased in caramel, and whilst the dish is particularly popular around Japanese New Year, fortunately both mochi and the chocolate are available all year round.
If you’re missing your own home-grown candy bars, take a trip to your local 7/11 and pick up some of these aforementioned alternatives. It’s certainly an experience you won’t regret.