Sunday, August 18, 2019

Maruchan "Mike" Green Tanuki Soba Popcorn



On the social media outlet, "Reddit," - that's the one that all of the content aggregaters steal content from - I occasionally see a question to the effect of, "If you fell asleep for a hundred years, how do you think the world would have changed when you woke up?" Being in Japan was a bit like being asleep for 23 years and then waking up and finding out how America changed. One of the ways in which it changed was that popcorn was sold in a popped format, in flavors, and in shelf-stable packaging.

It still boggles my mind that things like "Boom Chicka Pop" sell already popped corn in bags for a high mark-up. One of the best things about popcorn is how amazing it tastes when it is fresh. A second amazing thing is how cheap it is. Third, it's incredibly easy to make. You just need a pot with a lid and some oil, a paper bag and a microwave oven, or an air popper. All of these are fast and easy and you can spend about 10 cents for a vat of fresh, fantastic-smelling popped corn. So, why pay more for old corn? Well, people are just that lazy now.

I will have to be fair and say that it may not only be about laziness. Bags of popcorn come in flavors that you can't easily make at home, though that's less true in the U.S. than of this Japanese variety. This is designed to taste like a particular variety of heat and eat soba sold by Maruchan.

My expectations of this were very low. I'm not a big fan of soba and this has katsuobushi in it. That's dried, shaved fish to you and me in the English-speaking world. It's not that I don't like katsuobushi as part of some dishes, but just that I don't want it on my popcorn. This popcorn does have a slightly fishy ending taste, but the front and middle is a really tasty savory mix of multiple flavors including garlic, green onions, kombu, pork, and seafood. None of those flavors comes through as itself. They are just one unified sense of savory flavor. It's addictive and very tasty.

While I was very pleased with the flavoring, the texture was less crispy than I'd like. It wasn't exactly stale, but it definitely wasn't at crunchy as fresh corn or as I'd hope for a salty snack. Still, I enjoyed this quite a lot and would definitely consider another snack with the same flavoring again. 


Thursday, August 8, 2019

Sukiyaki Pringles



I have never been much of a Pringles person. Sure, being a fairly organized person who likes orderly spaces, the concept of Pringles appeals to me. Who wouldn't love an anal-retentive concept in which your chips are well-behaved and identical such that they stack neatly into a canister. What's not to love if you're compulsively tidy?

What has never been for me to love is the texture. Compared to potato chips, they have a crumbly, softer texture because they're not only made with dehydrated potato, but also flour. They are a more processed version of something which is superior in its original form.

All of that being said, I've not eaten deep fried food regularly for a long time and I can't digest it well. My husband is the chip eater in the family and, if I sample just two of his fried chips, I'll be feeling it hours later. These Pringles didn't bring on any digestive problems like deep-fried chips seem to. That's quite the bonus right there. One thing is for sure, gluten is my friend as the wheat flour mixed in these didn't cause one problem for me.

The place where these really shine is the sukiyaki flavor. It's very savory and "meaty" in a way I've not experienced before in a chip. The flavor depth is impressive and I loved that (and I don't even like beef). You get a lot of complexity including onion, garlic, mushroom, and, of course, the beef. I really liked these chips, much to my surprise. I guess that my enjoyment was absolutely amplified by the lack of regret later on.

I did a little research on Pringles because I've always wondered why anyone would try to make a processed chip when natural chips are so tasty. I thought perhaps it was one of those wartime things where a product comes about because of a shortage or, like custard powder in the UK, the product was created because someone had a food allergy. The answer seems to be because a food chemist and storage technician could do it and because people complained about how messy chips could be. It's not the most exciting answer, but it is an answer.


Saturday, August 3, 2019

ZenPop date night box - All the Reviews!



Things in life don't always go as planned. I had hoped to do proper reviews of everything in this box, but two people who were important to me died suddenly and unexpectedly shortly after I received it. One of them was my best friend in high school and her husband was flying a small plane and they both died in a crash. The other passed away after years of health issues. I wish I could say the latter was more surprising than the former, but death is always a surprise, even when you should reasonably "expect" it. I just could not get in the mood to talk about snacks.

Though it's been quite some time, I'll give some abbreviated reviews of these items here and then move on to a more cheerful set of reviews of other snacks soon!

Savory:

Mike Shoyu Butter Popcorn: This was my favorite item in the box. The savory notes of the soy sauce were well-rounded out by the buttery flavor, It was also very light and fresh tasting despite being shelf stable popcorn. That being said, I make a lot of my own fresh popcorn and there is a certain quality that is lost when it's been pre-popped and bagged. Though this was very enjoyable, I'm likely to stick to my own popcorn-making, but I have to give them props for managing to introduce soy sauce into the mix in a way that I could not. It's not like I can buy powdered soy sauce seasoning! (very happy sumo rating)

Sweet:

Grape Puchi Gum: As I mentioned in the unboxing, there is a little "game" in the box which you can play, but the game never really functioned well for me. The gum was also disappointing. It had a weird flavor, but I guess it's lucky that it didn't last very long as gum that is designed for kids so rarely does. I'm sorry to say that this neither worked as a novelty nor as a gum for me. I didn't finish the box. (unhappy sumo rating)

Juice C Fruit Color Balls: I liked the texture of these quite a lot. I'm not a big consumer of candy-ball-style candies in the U.S. so I can't compare these well to anything other people may know. I like the crispy texture as well as the fruity flavors, but melon was over-represented relative to some of the flavors that I like better. As melon goes though, these worked a lot better than some things I've had (read on!). (happy sumo rating)

Bontan Ame: I had these many times when I lived in Japan and am pleased to see them appear in this box. I reviewed them nine years ago in this blog and they haven't changed a bit in all that time.

Puccho Ibaraking Melon: I'll be honest and say that I'm not a fan of melon-favored candies in general. I think melon is something which is enjoyed less for it's flavor than for it's overall texture, moisture, and sense of refreshment. Watermelon is the only melon flavor I think really works in candies (and it doesn't work all the time). Cantaloupe and honeydew can often be a disaster as they are often overbearing. In Japanese sweets, it can be especially jarring and cloying and that's how I found these. They weren't sickly sweet, which was a plus, but the melon didn't work for me. (very unhappy sumo rating)

Mr. Ito Vanilla Cream Cookies: It's hard to mess up a crispy cookie with a white chocolate filling and these were good. They were lovely and crispy with a sweet filling (that actually didn't provide much vanilla, but was still good). These are the types of delicate, tea time cookies that were common when I lived in Japan, especially as souvenirs that coworkers. (happy sumo rating)

Kabaya Mini Melon Pan Cookies: This was my favorite item in the box when I got it, but it was my least favorite when I tried it. As I said before, I'm not a fan of melon-flavored sweets, and it may seem strange that I didn't expect this to be melon-flavored until you learn that "melon pan" isn't always melon flavored, but just refers tot he appearance of the crackly top of the bread. Much as conchas (the Mexican version of "melon pan") don't taste like shells, melon pan doesn't taste like melon if you buy it at a bakery. These were not only too odd in their melon flavoring, but the texture didn't live up to expectations. There was supposed to be a "sugar crust," but mine had gone soft. They were just boring and not to my tastes. (unhappy sumo rating)

Pokemon Wafers: It is hard for a wafer-based treat to go wrong with me because I'm a texture junky. This was very pleasant. It was lightly sweet and the chocolate wasn't too intense, but it was good blend of a light, crispy wafer and some lightly sweet soft filling. I like how these types of treats usually aren't overly cloying in Japan. (happy sumo rating)

Ume Sugar Sembei: One of my students once gave me an umeboshi hard candy in Japan. I like umeboshi very much. I like hard candies. I don't like the combination of the vinegary notes of a pickled plum with sugar. The combination of flavors just didn't work for me. This is a nice rice cracker in terms of texture and the base flavor, but the flavor combination didn't suit my tastes. (indifferent sumo rating)

Caplico Mini Cone: Something went amiss with my cone in transit because it had almost no filling. It seemed to have sunken down inside of the cone. Maybe it was meant to be a whipped/aerated chocolate filling that melted in warm conditions? This was good in terms of the flavor combination, but the texture really let me down. I would love to try one that had a proper filling and don't feel I can give it a fair review given that mine seemed to mostly be chocolate-line "cone." (indifferent sumo rating)

Ice Ramune: This tasted mainly like carbonized erythritol. I liked the crunchy texture, but it tasted like sucking on chemicals. I have used erythritol in cooking before so I know its distinctive notes and about it's cooling effect. The flavor was just too artificial for me. (very unhappy sumo rating)

Puka Puka Taiyaki Mint: These taiyaki sweets, of which I've had a few now, are one of my favorite kid's sweets (dagashi). The filling is whipped and airy so it's easy and soft to bite into and has a slightly "creamy" mouth feel as it sits on your tongue. The soft "monaka" (like a cake-style ice cream cone) provides a bland textural contrast for the more flavorful filling. (very happy sumo rating)

Sequoia Chocolate Bar: This is a classic and I have reviewed this iteration (as well as many others) before.

Poiful Drink MixThese were very tasty "jelly-bean-like" candies. The texture was a bit softer than the jelly beans that I buy in America. There's more of a slightly crisp outer shell to conventional jelly beans and these had a more consistent texture throughout. I liked these, but the flavors referred to alcoholic drinks I'd never had so I can't speak to the authenticity of how they taste to someone who has had those drinks. (happy sumo rating)

Cola Up: Cola as a flavor works even more poorly than melon in my experience and I really did not care for these. I put them in my mouth and soon thereafter spit them out. It tastes like the cheapest off-brand cola you could buy after being boiled down to a stronger flavor. (very unhappy sumo)

I'm sorry to give shorter reviews for these, though I think, given my tendency to be verbose, there are some who might be relieved! ;-) I'll be back with more usual reviews soon. 

Thursday, May 16, 2019

ZenPop Movie Date Pack Unboxing


Recently, I took a trip to Seattle and shopped at no less than four Japanese markets. The experience reminded me of something which I'd started to forget and that is that, even if you live close to Asian markets of any sort, the selection is often limited and the price greatly inflated. Despite my high level of interest in Japanese snacks, the prices were often 200% of that I'd pay in Japan. A bag of my favorite sembei was between $6.00-$8.00 when it'd sell for as little as 170 yen in Japan.

Though I get my ZenPop boxes gratis for review purposes, I am reminded of what a good way this is to get a wider selection of snacks after my foray into Seattles Uwajimayas and other Asian markets. The only things I bought were things like shokupan (Japanese milk bread) and baked goods because they were not shelf stable and I couldn't get them via other sellers or subscriptions. It is definitely cheaper to get snacks from ZenPop than it is to go to the types of markets that I visited. Of course, it's not as cheap as buying them in Japan, but it's cheaper than a plane ticket.


The theme of this box is "movie date pack" and it ironically arrived the day before my husband and I planned to see Avengers: Endgame for a second time. I don't know if I can sneak if the somewhat big bag of popcorn that is in the box, but I might try if I can find a purse large enough.

In this box, here is what is included:


Savory:

Mike Shoyu Butter Popcorn: I have never bought pre-popped popcorn because I'm a snob who only eats popcorn that has been freshly made. That being said, the flavor on this (soy sauce and butter) is intriguing. It's a flavor combination which I've enjoyed many times on kabocha (Japanese pumpkin/squash).

Sweet:

Grape Puchi Gum: Behind the little bean-sized bits of gum, there is a piece of paper in the center of the box designed to let you play a tennis game. I'm not sure how it works at present because there is too much gum in the way, but I'll give it a better look when I review the gum.

Juice C Fruit Color Balls: Though these look a lot like the grape Puchi gum, they are more of a Skittles-type candy fromt he look of things. I have not had these before though so it'll be a new experience. The flavors are pineapple, melon, grape, strawberry, and orange.

Bontan Ame: I had these many times when I lived in Japan and am pleased to see them appear in this box. I reviewed them nine years ago in this blog and they haven't changed a bit in all that time.

Puccho Ibaraking Melon: "Ibaraki" has been made into a verb/gerund for the name of this because it's the name of a prized melong originating in that prefecture. This is a chewy candy reminiscent of a Starburst. It has little flavor spots in it which look to be liquid-like.

Mr. Ito Vanilla Cream Cookies: I've eaten with Mr. Ito before and found his chestnut tart cookies quite appealing. We will see how these simpler cookies are.

Kabaya Mini Melon Pan Cookies: This is my favorite item in the box as I love melon pan and the idea of a cookie that resembles them, even if it's only in appearance, makes me smile. They look like they'd pair well with some tea as they are described as "dry" with a "sugar crust."

Pokemon Wafers: This is a dagashi (kid's sancks) item so I'm guessing it'll be a pretty basic wafer. That doesn't mean it won't be good. I'm a huge fan of wafers, but I'm guessing the main appeal of this is the collectible sticker inside the package.

Ume Sugar Sembei: I had problems deciding if this should be in the savory or sweet section because this has sugar on the outside, but plum flavoring as well. Most people think sembei is salty, but there is a market for sweet ones as well. Though I think this will be of less interest to readers, it's my second most interesting item in the box.

Caplico Mini Cone: As the information sheet for this snack mentions, these cones have been around forever, but I never tried one during my 23 years in Japan. I think one of the reasons was that I usually found them in supermarkets in enormous bags. It'll be interesting to (finally) give this a try and see what the "ice cream" is made up of.

Ice Ramune: This appears to be little sugar candies (like a hard candy), but I'm not sure because it has opaque packaging. The first ingredient is "grape sugar" and the second is erythritol which I'm assuming is the source of the promised "cooling" effect of the candy as that sweetener leaves a cool feeling on the tongue.

Puka Puka Taiyaki Mint: The cooling from this snack will come from the mint. I've had some puka puka taiyaki before, but, unfortunately never reviewed it. I have liked past interations of this very much, but I'm a little concerned about how the chocolate with mint might be presented. I'm also a bit disconcerted by the blue color of the fish as it looks so fake.

Sequoia Chocolate Bar: This is a classic and I have reviewed this iteration (as well as many others) before.

Poiful Drink Mix: Poiful are a type of jelly bean that are a little smaller and chewier than American jelly beans. This presented a problem for me when I reviewed two other varieties in the past because trying to chew something so small generally ended up with me chewing my cheeks. We'll see if I've developed better masticating skills now. This is called a drink mix because these are cola, lemon squash, cider, and white soda flavored.

Cola Up: This is a tray of cola-flavored gummy candies. I have exceptionally low expectations for this snack both because it's dagashi (kid's snacks) and it's cola flavored. In my experience, cola-flavored sweets tend to be terrible because they have an odd flavor (think off-brand cola) and cola without carbonation is rarely a tasty thing.

I am a little disappointed with the heavy emphasis on sweet over savory in this box, but this is a "sweets" box so I can't say it's an unfair distribution. I just am accustomed to more salty items in the mix than this one provided.

As for what I'd take along to the movies, if my puny purse can't take the popcorn, the Poifull and Color Balls are looking pretty snackable.

I hope to review most of the items in this box in the coming weeks!

If you're interested in ZenPop's Japanese snack service, you can reach them here

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Glico Kari Kari Cheese Pretz


My husband and I have been back in the United States for almost exactly seven years come the end of this month. This has nothing to do with Pretz, but it has something to do with the delay between the last review of the contents of my ZenPop cheese box and this one.

For the duration of our time back "home" (which often doesn't feel like home), we've lived without an actual television. That is not to say we didn't watch any content which is on TV, but just that we did it using a 28" monitor that we hooked up to a PC or our blu-ray player. My husband finally decided he was tired of seeing puny people from across the living room when we sat on our loveseat (Note: we also lived without any sort of "proper" furniture for about six years in terms of seating). So, we bought a 43" TV with the notion that we could now see things on screen more clearly with our aging eyes. Simple enough, eh?

Well, it turned out not to be so simple. We live in a pretty small house with a lot of impediments to furniture arrangement. It was built in 1949 and has few wall outlets, lots of heating vents, and unhelpfully placed doorways. I love the place and the size. I also love the neighborhood, but, boy howdy, is it hard to set up much of anythign in regards to furnishings. I ended up rearranging in anticipation of the TV, finding that failed greatly and then doing it all again three days later. My total investment in time for this game of musical furniture was about 15 hours. The whole experience totally wiped me out and I had no energy left for talking about pretzels.

By the way, all of that effort was for the picture below (cat not really a part of the process, but the thing on the far left is a treat dispenser which she was poking around in). It looks pretty simple, but that was the hard part. Getting it down to this level of sparseness was no small feat.


However, now that it's all worked out, I can focus on more important things like talking about salted snack foods. I love pretzels of pretty much any stripe, but there are two things about them which are missing from these Pretz and that was disappointing.


First, there is the flaky, crumbly interior of the pretzel which yields so beautifully compared the harder baked exterior. These have more of the texture of a piece of raw spaghetti (yes, I've eaten raw spaghetti for reasons which are very sad). They aren't quite that hard and they do yield a little bit, but there is something about the texture which is unsatisfying.

The second point which is missing is the distinctive rye flour flavor that I associate with pretzels. The cheese powder on this is pretty decent. It's got a pronounced processed cheese flavor with the appropriate savory notes and a little bit of a "dairy" kick, but it's not overbearing. It's also not too salty while being salty enough. The main problem is that the delivery system for the cheese flavor, the pretzel stick itself, is too insubstantial to hold its own.

This is not a bad snack by any stretch of the imagination. I just feel like it sacrificed some flavor complexity and textural satisfaction for a stronger crunch. They are more like a thick chip version of a pretzel than a normal Pretz. That may work for some people, but it didn't really do it for me.

Note: This was part of my free ZenPop snack box.