Most folks know wasabi as the horseradish-like green stuff you mix into your soy sauce so that each bite of sushi clears your sinuses and makes your eyeballs burn (mine do, anyway). But the Japanese would never do something as boring as just leave it at that. In the land of chocolate-covered potato chips and octopus-flavored ice cream, every flavor has to be taken to a strange new level. The same goes for wasabi.
Photo by lazythunk
First, a few things about wasabi (山葵). It's sometimes referred to as 'Japanese horseradish.' It comes from a plant that grows wild along stream beds, especially in Shizuoka Prefecture. In fact, it rarely grows outside of Japan. The root of the plant is grated (with a sharkskin grater, if you've got one lying around) and made into a paste. Often, it's dried into a powder and sold in that form. You can also buy what look like toothpaste tubes full of the fiery stuff. Brushing teeth with it is not recommended.
It's common to see wasabi peas and wasabi-flavored senbei (煎餅, rice crackers), but my personal favorite wasabi snack is wasabi kaki-pi. Kaki-pi is a snack that consists of kaki no tane (柿の種, persimmon seeds, in this case baked) mixed with piinattsu (ピーナッツ). The seeds are crunchy and have a tangy flavor that mixes well with the peanuts.
Kaki no tane is a snack that's found in the otsumame (乙豆, snacks to be eaten with beer or spirits) section of the store. It goes well with beer, but the wasabi-flavored version is even better.
An abomination from hell or an amazingly delicious snack combination? That's what you might be thinking when you're staring down a lime-green bag of wasabi-flavored Doritos. Japan's Doritos come in a wide array of bizarre flavors like coconut curry, fried chicken, steak, and tuna-mayonnaise. In other words, wasabi isn't a strange flavor at all.
Wasabi-flavored Doritos are crispy and salty, but instead of processed nacho cheese flavor, your taste buds are flooded with the flaming hot sting of wasabi. It is not a bad match at all. There's also wasabi-mayonnaise Doritos if you like to live on the edge.
Wasabi Kit Kat
What happened when two strangers on the sidewalk bumped into each other and mixed their chocolate and peanut butter? Answer: an awesome new snack flavor. How about Japanese horseradish and white chocolate? Kit Kat candy bars are popular in Japan, probably in part due to the fact that the name sounds like the Japanese kitto katsu (きっと勝つ, a sure win). Kit Kat has a special wasabi-flavored version of its chocolate bar that's only available in Shizuoka Prefecture.
The bar itself is pale green and doesn't smell at all of wasabi. It has a white chocolate flavor with just a hint of wasabi. If you ever visit Shizuoka Prefecture, this is a must-buy omiyage (お土産, souvenir) for the folks back home, who will politely eat it and maybe say it's tasty.
Wasabi ice cream
Japan is known for its innovative ice cream flavors and wasabi hasn't been overlooked. Called wasabi aisu (山葵アイス, wasabi ice cream), it's ice cream with the slight tanginess of the Japanese horseradish root. Your sinuses aren't assaulted. It's just a tingle that you get as an aftertaste.