Monday, November 18, 2013

Kameda Seika Happy Turn Maple Sembei

My husband and I brought back select souvenirs from Japan and had to be extra cautious about large items. One of the big things we brought back was a Happy Turn tin. He won it in a crane game (aka UFO Catcher) and I had a good association both with how it was acquired and with the product inside - the "Happy Turn" (sometimes called "Happy Tan" sembei. We keep the tin in the kitchen and I store my snacks in it. It's a nice way of keeping the multiple open bags and food waiting to be reviewed in an appropriate place.

"Happy Turn" is a very popular brand in Japan and most people know it and enjoy it. If you want to understand just how popular, you need only consider that there is a stamp made with its mascot's image. A real postage stamp. Yes. I haven't seen a Dorito's stamp in the U.S. - but then I haven't been looking either.

The brand's signature is a unique combination of sweet and salty with a heavy emphasis on vinegar. When I saw this maple variety at Marukai market for about $2.60 (around 270 yen), I jumped at the chance to sample it. I only had a few second thoughts when it came time to open the bag. Since vinegar is a large part of the Happy Turn experience, I suddenly realized that maple may not be the best choice. After all, few are the times when I've mixed vinegar with maple syrup and poured it on my pancakes or chugged it down as an elixir.

There aren't many flavor variations on Happy Turn, oddly. Besides the regular variety, there is cheese, this maple flavor, and, very strangely, a chocolate-covered version that is being sold as part of a variety pack. I would pick up said pack if I saw it, but mainly because I'd get to try the cheese version. The chocolate sounds pretty out there, but you just never know. Vinegar is nearly a cure-all and can mix with some pretty interesting flavors... but I'll hold off on the Hershey's syrup and rice vinegar, too.

With some apprehension, I gave it a taste, and it did taste weird at first. There is a definite maple flavor followed by vinegary sharpness. After I had it, I thought that was strange, but then I wanted another, and another, and another. It's strange how it was so enticing even when it seemed like such an odd flavor pairing. Somehow, it worked for me with the sweet, salt, and sour flavors mixing in. Of course, the light crispy cracker was adding something very "more-ish" to the textural delights.

I can't say that this is for everyone, but I liked it. It wouldn't be my first choice of Happy Turn, but it very much won't be hard to finish the bag. I can't say I'd kill to get more, but, if it was on sale, I'd certainly pick up some more for future consumption. At only 20 calories per cracker, it's also not the most calorically dense treat and the flavor is strong enough to satisfy after about 5 or so of them. My only issue with them is that, while they are all individually wrapped, they're done with a twist wrapper. Chances are they'll go stale fast if the bag isn't kept tightly closed or they aren't eaten pretty fast. That's a small complaint, and I can say that Happy Turn deserves the "happy" rating.

The "Happy Turn" download page currently features some adorable illustrations of the king and his castle. You can get it here for the time being.

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