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.




Thursday, February 28, 2019

Bourbon Horo Buono (Cheese Balls)


My expectations of these were that they would be a variation on conventional cheese balls in the U.S. By that, I mean a version of a cheese puff in ball shape. My supposition was incorrect by and large. This is one of those snacks which is unique and defies comparison because we don't have anything like it in the U.S.

These are little balls of softly crispy rice with a cheese coating that resembles white chocolate in texture. The inside is airy and isn't exactly crunchy because it's not brittle, but it's a little crispy. It's like soft sembei.


My guess is that the texture is achieved through using a lot of oil as the first ingredient is soybean oil. The interior is reminiscent to the melt-in-your-mouth texture of the fluffy sembei made by Echigoseika. It's not quite as soft and decadent, but it's on the spectrum.

The exterior texture is very yielding and seems soft, but it doesn't melt despite having a soft texture. It's cool on the tongue, and mildly cheesy. The description calls it "cheddar cheese cream" which sounds about right for the profile. The interior has not strong flavor, but is mainly a textural element.

I really enjoyed these and was delighted by how unusual the combination was. This is a big part of what enjoying foreign-made snacks is all about for me. I love it when I'm offered something which defies description or comparison as opposed to being a variation on a familiar theme.

Note: This was part of my cheese "sweets box" provided free of charge by ZenPop.


Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Lotte Crunky Baked Cheese Tart


The concept of this bar seems stolen directly from the baked KitKat concept. It's a white chocolate bar designed to be briefly cooked in a toaster oven in order to caramelize the chocolate a little and change the flavor profile.


I tried this both "as is" and baked and it is a night and day situation. When it's "raw" and a normal chocolat bar, it is unremarkable with a somewhat cloying "dairy" flavor from the attempt at cheesecake flavor. It's crunchy and heavy in feel and not especially bad or good.


In my first attempt at baking some of this, I overdid it. The margin between golden brown and burnt is probably seconds wide. Even over-browned and nearly burnt, this tasted really good. The weird dairy flavor vanished and it had more caramel tones.

Like the baked KitKats, you not only don't want to overcook them, but you don't want to handle them while they're still hot or they disintegrate. In general, these are quite crumbly after being baked anyway. The texture becomes almost cookie-like. It's still very sweet and the impact of the little crunchy bits is reduced when the bar is baked.

I really loved this when it was baked. The cheesecake flavor isn't super strong, but it's still very enjoyable because of the caramelization and texture. I didn't mind how crumbly it became, though it was a mistake to try and eat it warm as it crumbled into tiny bits. If you can get your hands on one of these, be sure to wait for it to cool so it holds on to some integrity.

Note: This was part of my free ZenPop cheese sweets box.


Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Calbee Potato Chips Giza Giza - Cheese and Black Pepper


The site for the "giza giza" (ridged) potato chips that Calbee makes encourages you to enjoy the chips slowly one by one. I don't know if they are letting you know that the experience is better if you eat them slowly or if they care about your health and are encouraging moderation, but it's pretty sound advice in either case. I imagine that American companies would encourage you to cram as many down your gullet as possible so you would go out and buy another bag. Cha-ching!

Most of the Calbee chips that I've had have had a "fresh" taste which carries a stronger potato flavor and lacks the oily heaviness of American chips. While my husband buys Kettle chips, I rarely eat fried chips at all because I've got issues digesting them in America. I will note that I don't have this problem with Japanese chips so it could be something about the fats they use. Nonetheless, I did enjoy these slowly, one by one, and in small portions.


The chips themselves are very crispy and crunchy without being brittle. These are slightly thicker than the standard (non-ruffled) varieties that Calbee makes. The cheese flavor to some extent masks that "fresh" flavor that is so distinctive in Japanese potato chips and that's a little disappointing. The cheese powder has a  "dairy" flavor which means this is made with real cheese. If you're used to fake versions, this may actually seem less "cheesy."

The black pepper is fairly subdued and tends to hit as a finishing note. I'm a bit ambivalent about this because I love black pepper and would have preferred a more potent presentation. That being said, it does balance the flavor experience pretty well because your taste buds don't get saturated with the pepper.

These are lovely chips, but a little on the unassuming side. That's not really a demerit, but just an observation. I enjoyed them and found them suitably savory and with a more complex flavor than some without being flavor blasted.

Note: This was part of my free ZenPop "sweets" box.