Thursday, November 20, 2008
Cheese Rounds (Marui Cheezu) Snack
For foreign folks, there is no more treacherous territory in Japan than snacks and sweets purporting to be "cheese". On the sweet side, you have to brave sponge and cheesecakes made with the likes of Gouda or even variations on cheddar. You can buy a lovely looking sponge cake and get hit with a tangy, savory cheese bomb when you bite into it. On the salty side, more often than not, you get flat, lifeless moderately salty corn puffs or chips with flavorless yellow or orange dust.
Personally, I like my cheese flavor strong on a salted snack. The purpose of the delivery device is to bring the crunch and the flavor is supposed to be carried in the powder. Planter's used to sell canisters of "Cheese Balls" (possibly "Cheeze Balls", I'm not up on my dubious spelling) which was the sublime embodiment of salted cheese snack treats. This is the gold standard by which all cheese snacks should be judged. They were so well-loved that there's one of those useless Internet petitions begging Planter's to bring them back.
Enter Riska's Cheese Rounds. These can be bought for 27 yen per 17 gram bag/.6 oz. (or 4 bags for a dollar/99 yen). The portion is small, but should be attractive to folks who want 100 calorie deliveries since the bag of 12 or so rings is 94 calories. The question is, are these rings a worthy competitor for Planter's Cheese Balls? The answer is, they are not only worthy to compete, but to succeed. They even have an anthropomorphic mascot on the cover to duke it out with Mr. Peanut. If you can't tell, that's a very excited pan of melted cheese with broccoli on his fork on the package cover. Mr. Peanut has limbs to punch and kick with, but this pan is piping hot and armed. It'd be one hell of a cartoon mascot match.
When you open the bag, it smells tangy and cheesy. The texture of the rings is crispy and light. There is a lot of flavored powder on the rings, but it doesn't stick to your fingers as badly as the powder from something like a Cheeto, though it does adhere to your fingers a little. The taste is richly cheesy, slightly salty, and a little buttery. One of the ingredients is "creaming powder", so that may be where the buttery sense comes from. It also includes whey, paprika, cheese powder, Sucralose, and added calcium. I've noticed that just the right amount of sweetness is often mixed into Riska salted snacks to enhance their savory nature.
These are not only the best cheese snacks I've had in Japan, but possibly better than any I've had in the U.S. If you find yourself in a Japanese market looking for cheesy munchies, skip the imported or domestic Cheetos which are so readily available and track down a bag of Riska's Cheese Rounds. You won't regret it.