"Umai" seems to have several different possible translations, though the general meaning is always the same. It's used to refer to some food being tasty, though sometimes it means sweet and sometimes it seems to mean savory goodness. At any rate, if you watch any Japanese cooking show (and if you come to Japan, there are hundreds of them to choose from on a single night of T.V. viewing - yes, I exaggerate), someone will be sampling a dish and saying, "umaiiiiiii". I've told my husband that you could probably serve them a fossilized bit of dog poo on one of those shows and they would dip it in soy sauce and exclaim, "umai" (delicious!). They are paid to say everything is fabulous regardless of what it's really like.
This kid's pack of 7 snacks and a sticker was on offer at the local 99 yen store, so this cost a little under a dollar. It includes a collection of "bo" (stick) snacks that you can generally buy for 25 yen each and two small packets of salted treats. The variety pack gives you a little more value for your money than buying the individual snacks by themselves.
These snacks are made by a company named Yaokin which specializes in a wide variety of snacks which are cheap, small, and largely marketed toward children. They also sell small toys like balloons. A lot of their kid's snacks and these sticks have a cartoon character that is a knock-off of popular ear-less anime cat Doraemon on them. There's a very colorful catalog of all of their products available for download on their web site. You can get it by clicking on the catalog download text "2009年カタログ ダウンロード on the page I linked to in the previous sentence.
Each stick is a different flavor. One of the reasons I don't review this sort of item often is that it's a lot of work talking about and photographing each item, but the appeal of something with so much variety for so little cash is irresistible on occasion, so here we go.
First, the sticks:
Note that all of the sticks are the exact same thing with different flavor powders. They are all a corn-based tube that is light, puffy, and pleasantly crispy. They are about 12 cm. (4.7 in.) long.
The smell of this was a little off-putting. It did smell like salami seasonings, but something smelled a bit strange. The stick is covered with parsley flakes and you can really taste it. There's also pork powder and oil flavoring, but neither of these comes across very distinctly. Mostly, I tasted garlic, parsley, and a nondescript fake meat flavor. This was one of the lesser sticks of the bunch, though it wasn't really bad. I just found the mystery taste and smell to make it less appetizing.
Note: There's an illustration of a Sony AIBO-style robot dog riding a scooter on the packaging as well as a mention of a "campaign" (contest) on the company's web site. The campaign is for free gifts for 1000 people who send postcards with a portion of the packages from these sticks. Kids can win 2 GB USB thumb drives, an umaibo video game, a puzzle, or a battery meter. I'm not sure what kid wants a battery meter, but there you go.
Mentai (marinated pollock roe):
This looks very red so you expect it to have some heat, but the truth is that it's simply bathed in liberal amounts of paprika in order to simulate the color of pollock roe (which is what mentai means in Japanese). It smells and tastes fishy with a heavy kick of paprika, garlic and salt. The web site information on this says that mentai is the most popular of their stick snacks, but I'm not a great fan of fish-flavored food. That's probably because I'm not a fan of fish in general. I think this isn't bad, but I didn't finish it. I'm guessing someone who enjoys fishy things would find it more appealing.
Corn potage is a soup of corn, onions, and cream that usually includes garlic and parsley flavors. It's sold as a powdered mix in nearly every market and convenience store in Japan. This tube of corn snack smells exactly like the powdered soup. It also tastes like it. It's immensely savory with all of the soup flavors and just a touch of sweetness. I really liked this. In fact, I think this is a different shaped variation on the corn potage snack that I previously reviewed and enjoyed.
The scent of this one is very familiar. It smells like the Marui Cheese rings or like planters cheese balls. In fact, this is like a puffier version of the cheese rings. Since Yaokin seems to have a relationship with Riska, which makes the Marui Cheese rings, it could be the same flavoring. This was nice, though I could have gone for a little more cheese flavoring for the volume of crispy corn tube. Nonetheless, the taste was zesty, fake cheese like you would expect on a salted cheese snack and it was pretty good. Note that this is slightly greasy and left marks on the tissue I put it on.
Tonkatsu (pork cutlet) sauce:
The smell is a non-descript savory smell, mildly reminiscent of soy sauce. The taste is very, very sour as if someone has mixed a teaspoon or two of soy sauce with vinegar. Subsequent bites are spicy and it grows a little hot, but in the way that garlic can be hot rather than red peppers. This was a bit intense, but not bad. I think fans of salt and vinegar chips might enjoy this. Note the "pigs in space" motif of the packet.
Corn and corm puffs:
This is "morokoshi wa taro" or, essentially, "corn and corm rings". Among the ingredients are corn, taro (a Japanese corm), vegetable oil, and spices. They don't smell like much of anything and taste like an airier, relatively flavorless Chee-to. I'd call these rather inoffensive to mildly pleasant because of the texture.
Seafood (Umaka Chanpon) corn puffs:
The graphic on this bag reminds me of the American animated comedy, South Park. Specifically, it looks like a crude 3D rendering of the character of Stan Marsh. The character looks angry, like the offspring of some sort of rightist radical. I'm not sure why he's so worked up. His corn snacks are pretty tasty. They don't have a smell that is easy to pin down. That's probably because there are so many spices mixed up in them including pork, chicken, garlic, and seafood extracts. Mainly, the garlic stands out with a bit of a meaty, savory aftertaste. They're pretty salty with a hint of sweetness. My only reservations about them relate to the texture. They are slightly soft and it'd be nice if they had more snap in their crunch. There are only 12 grams (.4 oz.) in the bag, but that makes it a nice size to accompany a sandwich.
Though these are packaged for kids, the snacks themselves really have little to do with children. They're all pretty normal salted corn snacks. I ate them one at a time over about three weeks time and largely enjoyed sampling them. Since the price is so low and the portion sizes rather modest, I think these would be good for someone to just have on hand for satisfying a craving for something salty, though it is pure junk food. I also think they'd make good souvenirs for people back home since they are cheap, colorful, very Japanese-looking, and contain the sort of food that most people can tolerate at worst and may enjoy at best.