Photo courtesy of © JR East Japan Water Business Co., Ltd.

Spicy Mapo Soup Sold in Japanese Vending Machines Is Our New Favorite Hot Beverage

For passengers standing on Japanese train platforms in the brisk December air, there's a row of red labels on the vending machine which looks particularly inviting, as they offer the promise of a hot canned beverage and hand-warmer in one. A quick review of the choices will typically reveal coffee, tea, and even the occasional hot corn soup.

But if you've used any of the acure vending machines in JR East stations these past few months, you may have noticed something rather more exotic than that: shark-fin soup, known in Japanese as fukahire soup. The first in a new line of Chinese-themed canned beverages produced in collaboration with Nagatanien, the drink was an immediate success.

Introducing Mapo Soup in a Can

Now, the "acure made" brand (by JR East Water Business Co., Ltd.) brings us Spicy Māpō Soup 旨辛 麻婆スープ (umakara mābō soup), featuring another classic Chinese taste, which is also a favorite here in Japan. "Umakara" 旨辛 means tasty and spicy, or tastily spicy. In other words, just the right amount of spice to make it interesting!

If the word mābō (or mápó) sounds familiar, that's because you've probably seen it in Mapo Tofu, or as it's known here, Mābō Dofu. It can also be found in a dish with eggplant, and sometimes as a tasty variant in ramen shops.

The thought of enjoying the delicious taste of māpō on the train platform in a quick convenient package sounds inviting, so we made a few inquiries. As it turns out, a representative of their product division was willing to come to our office, so we happily accepted their offer. Her name was Shin-Shin.

A visit from Shin-Shin

When we greeted the party from JR East Water Business at the reception area, we were surprised to discover that Shin-Shin was a panda!

She introduced herself and presented us with her business card:

Photo © grape Japan

We flipped it over and read the following message:

Photo © grape Japan

Thank you for always buying our products. On December 3rd, Spicy Māpō Soup went on sale. Made with a base of chicken and pork with added hishio 醤 {a type of paste similar to miso}, and spiced with Szechuan pepper and chili pepper, it has an appealingly spicy flavor unlike any (canned drink) before it. It has just the right amount of spice to withstand the cold in the coming months, so please try it. It's waiting for you at Ekinaka vending machines.

Shin-Shin the panda

After reading that, a nice hot can of Spicy Māpō Soup sounded very appetizing indeed.

Shin-Shin seemed to read our mind, and she presented us with a can.

Photo © grape Japan

Photo © grape Japan

Normally, it's nice and hot from the vending machine, but it had cooled a bit on her way over to our office, so we poured out the contents into a mug and heated it up in the microwave oven. (Never put the can in the oven directly).

We invited Shin-Shin to sit down for a chat, as we sipped the deliciously spicy broth and enjoyed the satisfying texture of the soy soboro, which tasted just like the minced beef you often find in mābō dishes.

grape Japan: So, Shin-Shin, did you come all the way from China?
Shin-Shin: Yes, I came here for my training.

gJ: How are you enjoying your life in Japan?
Shin-Shin: My life in Japan? There are always new discoveries. I was surprised that there were so many spicy foods to enjoy, so I like it here.

gJ: Do you like bamboo?
Shin-Shin: (laughs) Well, yes, I do...

gJ: Spicy Māpō Soup has no bamboo, but is there an ingredient you’re particularly happy about?
Shin-Shin: From what I’ve heard, those who really enjoy mābō dishes relish the taste of Szechuan pepper. And now we’ve succeeded in putting mābō into a can! Of course, the other ingredients are all tasty, but I think the Szechuan pepper in the flavor profile makes it special, so I really recommend it.

gJ: Is there anything about your māpō soup you think will particularly appeal to foreign visitors?
Shin-Shin: Well, this goes for our entire vending machine lineup, but we offer many drinks which you can’t taste anywhere else. With our māpō soup, the can’s design stands out from the others, so I hope foreigners will be curious and try it for themselves. Maybe they’ll recognize a familiar taste. I think having that experience from a vending machine could be fun!

Photo © grape Japan

Recipes with Spicy Māpō Soup

Before she left, Shin-Shin told us that Spicy Māpō Soup has such an authentic taste that you can do something with it you normally can't do with other canned beverages: bring it home and make it a part of your meals. It tastes great poured over noodles, for example.

We even received two recipes for you to try at home:

Stir fry of Chinese chive and egg over rice with Māpō soup

© JR East Japan Water Business Co., Ltd.

Ingredients: Spicy Mapo soup 100-150 cc / Cooked rice (160g) / 1 egg / 2 Chinese chives (20g)/ 1 tsp. chicken stock powder / 1 tsp. chili oil / Pinch salt & pepper / 1/2 tsp. oil / 1 tsp. ground sesame seeds

Recipe: 1. Cut Chinese chives into 3 cm strips. 2. Heat oil in frying pan and cook beaten egg over on a medium flame. Add the Chinese chives when the egg is half-cooked. 3. Sprinkle in salt, pepper and chicken stock powder and stir to combine. 4. Serve rice in a bowl and spread contents of 3. over it. Pour 100 cc of heated Spicy Māpō Soup. Top with chili oil, and sprinkle ground sesame seeds.

Tip: Strongly season the stir fry of Chinese chives to balance the taste of the Mapo soup and rice.

Raw egg over rice with Mapo soup

© JR East Japan Water Business Co., Ltd.

Ingredients: Spicy Māpō Soup 100 cc, cooked rice (160g), 1 egg, canned tuna 50g, 2 tbsp. chopped scallions, 1 tbsp. soy sauce

Recipe: 1. Serve rice in a bowl and drop raw egg in the middle. 2. Layer canned tuna over the rice. 3. Pour hot Spicy Māpō Soup into bowl, avoiding the egg. 4. Sprinkle chopped scallions, pour in soy sauce and mix all ingredients.

Tip: If the flavor is too light or too strong, adjust it with soy sauce.

Photo © grape Japan

Product Information

  • Name: Spicy Māpō Soup 旨辛 麻婆スープ
  • Price: 140 JPY (tax incl.)
  • Weight: 190g (canned)
  • Where to buy: Acure vending machines within JR East stations, JR East Water Business online store, others
  • On sale from: Dec. 3, 2019
  • Product website (detailed ingredients, nutritional information, etc.)

By - Ben K.