Friday, August 31, 2018

ZenPop Sweets Pack August 2018 unboxing

It may seem these days that the only Japanese snacks that I review come from ZenPop. Well, that's because that's the case. They provide the best value box for the money and they also send me free boxes. If I had to pay, I'd buy from them, but I'm just as happy not to pay.

When I lived in the Bay Area (of California), I was lucky to have access to shops that sold Japanese food at seriously inflated prices. There is one Asian market about an hour away from where I presently live, but its selection is weak and the prices are even higher than those I'd previously paid. That has dampened my enthusiasm for seeking out new snacks as it's frankly depressing seeing the same bags of KiKat matcha mini bars for $12 and little else during every visit. These boxes are a spirit lifter when they show up with an assortment of things I haven't seen for many years now.

This box includes a mix of salty and sweet with an emphasis on things which won't melt in the heat of summer. Since I'm currently living in a place where temperatures at their highest can reach 100 degrees, this is something I'm grateful for. There are a few chocolates in the box and I'll be curious to see how they fared on the trip when I get tto reviewing them.

As always, there is a pamphlet inside which details all of the items in English with some descriptions and I'll be talking more about each item when I post the individual reviews. Here is the breakdown:

Don Tacos grilled corn chips, Calbee "conomme punch" chips, "salad" sembei, karu jaga umashio (crispy rolled potato snacks, salt flavored)

Pineapple hi-chew, "Soda" puchitto (candy balls), ramune in a plastic bottle, mini home pies (a flaky French-style "cookie"), Juice-C color balls (soda flavored), coconut pies, orange marble gum, caramel corn chocolate mint flavored (a puffy corn snack), Hello kitty peach lollipop, lemon "fettucine" gummies, unchoco (milk chocolates shaped like poop)

In terms of what I'm excited about, the first thing is the chocolate mint caramel corn. The regular caramel corn is already one of the most enjoyable snacks you can get from Japan (and overlooked in favor of the flashier, but often less enjoyable KitKats) and a variation on the flavor has great potential. This isn't like other corn puff snacks. It's light, crispy and almost melt-in-your-mouth.

I am also quite interested in fettucine gummies and seeing how they differ from regular ones in texture. Japanese gummies, in general tend to be more flavorful, less sweet, and have a better chew than American ones. The shape may also lend a different experience to them.

Of course, because I became a sembei fan late in my time in Japan, I'm looking forward tot he "salad" sembei. "Salad" is a funny flavor in Japan. It doesn't seem to mean anything related to what we'd call salad and my experience with it has meant a more "salad dressing" (vinegrette) type of experience. We'll see how this one tastes.

In terms of things I'm fairly indifferent to in this box, that would be the kid's stuff and the orange marble gum in particular. It's not that the gum isn't tasty. It actually is, but I've had it before and the flavor lasts about a minute then it's just plain jaw exercise. I think the dagashi (kid's) snacks are more appealing to people who haven't lived in Japan for a long time compared to me. They are the most colorful and often the most unique, but they also have the simplest flavor profile. Still, I will be reviewing them with an eye toward their intended market and as novelties and not through my very narrow lens.

Luna plush box for September

If you'd like to get your own sweets box, the September box is available for ordering at ZenPop and it has a nice bonus compared to the one I'm reviewing. There's a "Luna" plush which is adorable that is included with that box (at the same price as regular boxes). It's a pretty good deal in general, but it's even better in the coming month.

I'll be back very soon with a flurry of reviews of the contents of this box.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Coris SonoManma Peach Fuzen Gum and Kanro Fruit Rich Peach Candy

The peach on the bottom candy reminds me of "Call Me By Your Name." If you haven't seen it, don't ask. The defilement of fruit is just too disturbing to relive.

Like a runner struggling after a long, hard run to reach the finish line, I am slowing down on my progress with my ZenPop box, but I am determined to finish! However, I'm being slowed down by plans to take a very brief trip for vacation and the looming specter of grand jury duty. If I seem to be in a hurry, you'll understand why.

The pairings on my double reviews are not random. They make a sort of pointless logic to my mind. This one is a grouping of "stuff designed to keep your mouth entertained for a long time" or "stuff designed to remove bad tastes from your mouth." Choose whichever one seems more suitable.

The maker of the peach gum, Coris, specializes in dagashi (kid's snacks) and I've only reviewed a few of their items previously. If this gum is any indication, they are designed to be short-lived joys. The immediate sense is that this is the nicest, softests bubble gum I have ever had and it has a good, natural burst of peach flavor both from the gum itself and the little dab of goo in the center.

For about three minutes, this is a great chewing experience. After that, the flavor is tapped out and you're done. At that point it's time for another little ball of (peach-shaped) gum, or to focus on blowing bubbles. I can't say it's reasonable to expect a gum designed for kids to go the distance in flavor, but I never claimed to be reasonable.

Kanro's "Fruit Rich" peach candy is a decidely more adult and long-lasting experience. The candy is less sweet and intense than the gum, but it unfolds beautifully on the tongue and it's far easier to enjoy than sucking on a peach pit. Oddly, this includes herb extracts and menthol, but I couldn't taste those elements at all. Their inclusion means this is designed for soothing sore throats as much as for occupying a bored mouth.

If this were sugar-free, it would have my undying love rather than a brief flirtation. My teeth cannot only tolerate so much bathing in sugar before they cry "Uncle." So, while I'm happy for the lack of artificial sweetner aftertaste (or even present taste), I have to be careful not to overdo this lest I develop a cavity.

Coris Peach Gum:

Karno Fruit Rich hard candy:

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Shimi Choco Corn and Anpanman Pero Pero Choco

I'm headed close to the finish line in my race to review all of my ZenPop box treats before I loose my free time to jury duty (which is coming up on May 2nd). I have to say that it's been quite refreshing to get back in the groove of steady reviewing, though I know that I'll run out of things to review pretty soon.

If aliens came to earth and looked at our food, would they be confused by the fact that we shape our food like humans and then eat them? There are chocolate Santas at Christmas in the U.S. Why would we want to cannibalize a jolly guy who wants nothing more than to give us free toys?

These are the thoughts that occur to me when I look at snacks like the Anpanman chocolate lollipop. He looks so happy, and I just snapped his head in half, took my picture, and then took a bite out of him. If it is any consolation, he didn't taste especially good.

Incidentally, "pero pero" means "lick, lick" which I guess refers to the fact that this is on a stick. However, this isn't really designed for licking. It's barely designed for eating at all because the texture is too soft and the chocolate flavor is fairly muted, especially toward the center where there is more pink chocolate. It's balanced in sweetness. It's vaguely milky, but mostly seems to be too adulterated with vegetable oil to have any sort of pure flavor elements. It looks cute, and it doesn't taste terrible, but this is largely for novelty rather than for flavor. I had my husband sample it and he said, "It tastes like inferior chocolate." That about sums it up.

The other item in this double review is best known for it's tasty animal crackers. The "shimi corn" like is made up of various flavors of a cereal like corn base. It sounds very unimpressive, but it actually was very satisfying. The flavor of the chocolate was excellent and the texture of the star-shaped corn tube was perfect. It was neither too dense nor too crispy. If you like eating sugar cereal dry out of the box (and I do), this is going to be the bee's knees. This was unexpectedly tasty and I wish I had a case of them around for future noshing. It just really played into my tastes.

So, the moral of the story? Cannabalism is wrong in every way. Don't go around eating the heads of fictional characters. It will not be nearly as much fun as you anticipate. The other moral? Corn is always king!

Anpanman Pero Pero Choco:

Shim Choco Corn:

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Orihiro "Standing" Jelly

The latest in my continuing marathon of reviews of my ZenPop box is a "health" drink/snack from Orihiro. Orihiro specializes in food targeted toward women who are calorie-conscious and up on all the latest food fads that are supposed to keep you younger looking and in the pink. These are the women that keep the price of Manuka honey in the stratosphere because someone told them it'll cure every illness known to man and they believe much in the same way Fox Mulder believes in aliens - they want to believe.

People think wasabi KitKats are part of the "weird" Japan food culture. They've got nothing on this squeeze pouch of mutant gelatin snack. I have to say this one caught me by surprise in multiple respects. The first surprise was when I sqeezed the tube to see what popped out and some juice squirted me in the face. This is less a tube of jelly as it is thick gelatin globs floating in some sort of juice.

You have to make sure it is in your mouth when you squeeze it. It'll be a textural Russian roulette which one you get. My main problem was that I wanted to see what it looked like and get a picture for this blog. My loss is your gain since you won't have to actually have the bottle disgorge anything onto your body in order to know what is inside before you suckle on it.

In terms of how this tastes, the peach flavor is actually very pleasant and tastes a lot like nectar drinks. The ingredients list includes real peach juice. The main problem is that it is insanely sweet and you can taste the artificial sweetener all too well. It's made with both Sucralose and acesulfame K. Honestly, for something that is sold by a company with "health" in their URL, this is not especially healthy. It's a chemical cocktail to satisfy your sweet tooth with a low calorie load, but it's even sweeter than conventional sugar-free gelatin.

I wanted to like this, but it was just too fake-tasting for me, and I'm someone who uses Splenda everyday in hot beverages so it's not a sensitivity to sweeteners. I think they really just needed to dial back on the overall sweetness level and this could have been a nice way to satisfy a craving.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Poteko Cherry Blossom Salt Potato Rings and Calbee Sea Salt Hard Chips

I'm continuing my brisk jaunt through the box of snacks ZenPop sent me with two of the salted potato snacks. Besides being made of potato and containing salt, they really don't have much in common, but it's not like I'm matchmaking them or engaging in little mock wedding ceremonies where in which I put a tiny veil on the rings and a bow tie on the chips - at least not yet. Constructing these things takes time.

The first time I tried Himalayan sea salt, I wondered why anyone would like the taste and smell of sulfur on their food. Sure, it's pink and looks pretty, but - at least to my taste buds - it added nothing to the experience and really took things away. I dismissed it as one of those things all the cool kids were into because other cool kids told them to be into it.

As weird as I found Himalayan sea salt to be, the sakura (cherry blossom) salt on Tohato's potato rings is like a mutant version of salt. Maybe it was formed when Godzilla was percolated decades ago. When I opened the bag, the smell was strongly cherry-blossom-like. It just did not fit the sense of what should come with a potato snack.

Smell isn't everything though. People who eat Durian know that. Taste is where it's at. Unfortunately, this didn't fare much better on the taste front. The first ring is especially odd as it hits you full force with the cherry-like flavor of the salt. After you eat a few, you get a little acclimated and it's more of a bad aftertaste that you tolerate.

I'm not sure what Tohato was thinking with this one. I guess that the fact that this is a holiday release connected to the "doll's festival" for girls (hinamatsuri) made them think the whole cherry blossom concept was a good one. They should have saved it for their sweet snacks rather than Poteko.

While the Poteko aren't inedible, they aren't nearly as much fun as they should be. I'm giving them a little credit there. I think the best use for these is to take them around to your unsuspecting friends and tell them it's a Japanese potato ring snack and ask them if they can guess what flavor it is. Have your camera ready because you'll want to catch the faces they make and post them on social media or future blackmail purposes.

The Calbee chips, by comparison, are a much tamer beast. The "hard" part comes from chips made with a thicker cut potato. Most Japanese potato chips are super thin, light and crispy. These are still crispy, but the bite is definitely less crumbly and more crunchy.

All Japanese potato chips have a particular fresh scent and taste which is unique and these have that going for them. I'm guessing this comes from the oil. However, the bag I had also had an unusual and not necessarily welcome. Honestly, it reminded me of sour milk. I don't know where that came from and I've never experienced that with Calbee's chips before. They're supposed to have Vitamin C added, which is also a bit strange. That might have something to do with it.

Poteko Cherry Blossom Salt:

Calbee Sea Salt Hard Chips:

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Yaokin Fluffy Softmallow and Dora-Choco

The next step down the path of reviewing food from my ZenPop box (the "Peach Festa") is paved with things for children. Both of these dagashi (kid's snacks) are made by a company that most people know best for their savory corn snack sticks.  I have to admit that I don't recall every having seen the pastel marshmallow barber's pole that is the "softmallow," but I have a hazy memory of the little tiny dorayaki. Since I left Japan six years ago, I imagine I'm going to continue to have hazy memories.

The softmallow looks like something someone would try to recreate on Instagram or Pinterest, and then someone else would try to recreate it and it could be an epic Pinterest fail. It's adorable enough to be snipped into little pieces and be used as unicorn cow pies as part of a cake decoration.

So, the marshmallow has definitely won the remains of my twelve-year-old self's heart in terms of looks, but what about taste? It is indeed very fresh and soft, but soft like a pillow that gives and then rebounds. The marshmallow is lightly sweet and has no other flavoring added, but it is a nice flavor. I'm pleased to say that most of the Japanese marshmallow's that I had in Japan had a strange aftertaste that is absent in this one. The only difference between this and an American marshmallow is that it's less sweet and just a hair more "rubbery," but not in a way which is off-putting.

The dorayaki has an amazing smell that reminds me of freshly-baked cake. The chocolate filling is so similar in appearance to red bean paste that I forgot it was chocolate until I put it in my mouth. The cake is surprisingly moist for a shelf-stable product and does have a more "cake-like" taste than regular dorayaki which tends to be like a pancake which is a bit dry.

In terms of the filling, it's not super flavorful on the front end (the cake dominates), but hits on the back end when you get a little burst of chocolate that falls somewhere between dark and milk. The filling is nicely fatty and adds to the texture to some extent. This was shockingly good for a kid's snack and reminded me of a less cloying version of a Hostess snack cake.



Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Karu Edamame Snack

My stroll through the ZenPop box is one that I'm hoping will be far less leisurely so, with any luck, I'll be posting one review a day until I wear myself out, get called in for grand jury duty, or put on too much weight from an abundance of appealing Japanese junk food.

When I first saw the box for this snack, I assumed that the snacks inside were just pretzels flavored with edamame (young soybeans). It turns out that I was mislead by the little brown marks on the sticks (from where they've been baked, not fried, as the box tells me) and the shape. These are actually crispy tubes made of potato, edamame seasoning, and a plethora of other things which, if I listed them here, you'd only want to eat them less. And these are delicious so I don't want to reduce the chance that you'll try them.

The texture is crispy and light. The hollow tube design makes you feel like you're eating an expertly rolling potato chip that is perfect in crunchiness. The flavor has a bit of depth as the front end is a little salty and slightly potato-like. The back end is pure edamame with its verdant qualities. It's exceptionally well-executed to bring the target flavor to mind.

The box has 36 grams at 185 calories. I ate half at one sitting as a side to a tuna sandwich, but I could easily see going through the whole box at once with a cold drink on the side. It takes more than a little self-restraint to not do that.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Gelee Pure Peach Gummys and Meiji Gummy Candy

When I received both of these in ZenPop's Peach Festa box, I figured it was only reasonable to pit them against one another. I constructed a tiny battle arena and placed each in one corner of the ersatz ring. One of them had a shelled pistachio for a coach and the other a crusty old corn nut. Both touch old snacks did their best to prepare them for the battle to come. When the bell rang, I ate them both.

In terms of appearance, the Pure are definitely the more attractive-looking candy, and not just because the shape whispers that it will love you back if you choose to love it. The frosty white exterior reminds one of sugar, though it actually is part of the sour and sweet combination that this candy offers.

The Meiji Gummy is much more pedestrian in appearance and more straightforward in its flavor profile. It has a pure, sweet peach flavor that tastes fresh and natural. Eating one of these is like eating a very flavorful peach in terms of taste. In fact, both gummies get the peach flavor amazing "right." I just happen to prefer the flavor depth of the Pure's sour combination along with the sweet.

The texture of both candies is slightly tough and quite chewy, though they soften as they are warmed by your mouth. Neither has an edge when it comes to texture. Because they seem to be made with less sugar than some gummy-style candies, I found that they don't tend to stick in your teeth quite so badly.

Also, and this means a lot more in Japan than it does in the U.S., they both contain collagen. In my copious experience talking to Japanese women about skin (as they were always remarking on my "creamy white skin"), I know that they're a little bonkers for anything which they can supplement to improve their skin quality. Collagen is supposed to improve elasticity so you can have skin that snaps back like a rubber band if you eat enough of these gummies. (Note: I made that up. Neither company makes such a promise.)

The packaging is a little different in that Kanro's Pure gives you nutrition information for each candy (11.4 calories and 135.4 mg of collagen) and Meiji gives you information on the entire bag (155 calories and 2200 mg of collagen). Though they are tasty, I think Meiji is more than a little optimistic if they think you're going to chew your way through an entire bag.

The winner is: Pure. This is largely due to the added flavor depth from the citric acid powder on the outside, but they also just feel like a nicer candy in terms of the whole experience. That isn't to say that the Meiji gummy isn't tasty. It really is, but I'd buy Pure if I had to choose.

Meiji gummy rating:

Pure gummy rating:

Monday, April 16, 2018

ZenPop "Peach Festa Pack" box unboxing

I didn't expect to be doing two Zenpop "unboxing" posts in a row. In fact, I expected to review the items in the previous box. I have a good excuse. No, really, I do. If you don't think what I have to say is a sufficient reason, then you haven't had my misfortune. My excuse is, in three little words, "grand jury duty."

If you've never been selected for this honor, then let me say that I was fortunate that my term is shorter than some, and it's still longer than regular jury duty by far. I'm on the hook for random service for three months and each day that I do it is like an exhausting day on the job with no down time because there's no taking a break to look at your cell phone (not that I have one of those, I don't) or browse the web.

I hope to do better reviewing the items in this box, but I can barely cook my own dinner when I'm on duty, let alone ponder writing things. Still, my fingers are crossed and I'm going to push harder to squeeze in some reviews because I was pretty damn excited about this box when I saw what was inside.

As I've said before, I consider ZenPop to be one of the best value snack boxes out there for Japanese goodies. They packed this one super full and even managed to include two drink options which was suprising and welcome. Of course, the way to my heart was swiftly found with the inclusion of kinako wafers. I literally cuddled them to my chest when I found the package.

Click this image to load a larger one.

In terms of the contents, it's detailed in the included packaging, but I'll briefly talk about them in groups by type here:

Kids snacks (dagashi):

Anpanman choco: While this looks like a lollipop, it's really chocolate on a stick featuring the familiar face of Anpanman. In the U.S., we would call him "Bread Head," and he'd be a candidate for a villain in the old Tick animated series.

Long Marshmallow: I've already got my speculation about how this is going to taste. Japanese marshmallows are quite different from American ones both in texture and in taste. They tend to be more "gummy" and chewy rather than soft and pillowy.

Dorayaki Choco: This is a shelf-stable, kid's sized version of the venerable Japanese snack which is like two pancakes with filling. Usually, these are filled with red beans, but these have chocolate which I'm betting will make them a bit sweeter.

Choco Stick: I reviewed several things called "Choco Stick" before and this one comes closest to this one. However, it doesn't look like it's actually a corn snack dipped in chocolate, but rather a corn snack made from the ground up with chocolate.

Peach gum: The description of this recommends putting all three pieces in your mouth at once and trying to blow a big bubble. I'm saying right now that that is what I'm going to do, but not because I do what I'm told. I'm going to do it because gum is too tiny these days and you need at least two pieces to satisfy my big mouth and there's no point in leaving that one little bit an orphan.


Konjac Jelly Peach: Technically, this isn't a drink, but a liquid jelly that you suck out through a spout in the top. I'm guessing this is what Japanese astronauts eat in spring.

Peach Drink: This is technically a "dagashi" (kid's snack) and I do recall seeing this type of thing sold in Japan, especially in summer, but I never tried one during all of my years there.

Salty Snacks:

Poteko Cherry Blossom salt flavor: Poteko are super crunchy potato rings and I reviewed the regular (salt) flavor before. I have no idea how you flavor salt with cherry blossom, but I guess I'll find out.

Curry Arare Sembei: These are an old-fashioned type of rice crackers that are easy to find in most stores in Japan. While this is also mentioned as dagashi, I think this is also within the range of otsumami, or snacks to be eaten with alcoholic drinks. I'm guessing this will be more about the crunch than the flavor. If these are dagashi, they won't have as strong flavors as adult-oriented rice crackers.

Edamame Sticks: This is a bona fide otsumami snack which looks like it's a version of the same pretzels that are used on things like Pocky.

Otsumami Mix (mixed rice crackers): After the kinako wafers, this was the item I was happiest to see, but I'm a sucker for sembei.

Natural Calbee Sea Salt Chips: Though these have a relatively common flavor, they're supposed to be thicker than usual chips. That would make them similar to some Kettle brand chips. I'm guessing that they will be one of the less unique and underwhelming experiences in the box. Japanese chips usually have a fresh flavor compared to Western ones, but they aren't likely to be so different.


Petit Kinako Wafers: I've reviewed this product before and loved it to pieces. The Bourbon brand of petit snacks is often carried at Japanese markets and import stores in the U.S., but these have never been there when I've patronized one. So, they're one of those flavors that someone seems to have decided aren't going to sell in America, much to my chagrine. And, yes, I tried these already (again) and they are nearly the same as I remember except that they are less messy. Unfortunately, the exterior isn't coated in kinako powder so it takes longer for the flavor profile of the toasted soy bean to hit your tongue. Still, they're very tasty.

Gelee Pure Peach gummies: I've had a lot of Pure gummies and they are really hit or miss. The best ones are amazing. The worst ones are gross and hard to finish. We'll see how these are.

Peach Gummy Candy: This is Meiji's version of gummies (the previous ones are made by Kanro). I have less experience with these. I hope to review these two snacks mano a mano.

I think this is a pretty respectable assortment with something to offer everyone and a good focus on the seasonal flavor of peach. I can't promise to review them all, but I do promise to get to some of them despite jury duty. :-p Thanks for your patience!

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

ZenPop Sweets "Red and White" Box (Unboxing)

In the first few years after I returned to the U.S., I took my sister-in-law to the "Daiso Japan" shops in the Bay Area. The Daiso is a hundred yen (dollar) store in Japan and other parts of Asia, but most things are a $1.50 in the U.S. When my sister-in-law remarked on Facebook that it was so cheap and had a lot of interesting items, someone who had lived in Japan for a long time scoffed and remarked that those things where 50% less in Japan. The implication was that that was no deal.

My feeling about this response was, "Are you new?" This person had lived in Japan for longer than me and should have known better. You can't compare prices in one country in which a product is originally distributed to those in a country that they're exported to. We believed we were very lucky if we could get goods from the U.S. at Costco Japan or the Foreign Buyer's Club for a mere 50% mark-up. If it was less than that, it was a rare and enormously special deal. Usually, we were just glad that something from home was available at all.

If you are looking for Japanese snacks, the main thing you want is to get things that you can't get locally, and, yes, there will be a mark-up to pay the people who do this business for their time. This is my second unboxing of a ZenPop box. In my first, I focussed on the service itself and it's value in a very granular way. You can see that overview here. The bottom line is that I think their contents represent one of the best values in subscription boxes that you can get at present and that the mark-up on items to pay for their efforts is likely between 40-50% (I'm not including shipping and packaging costs in that estimate). It's not nearly as cheap as if you lived in Japan and could buy these things for yourself, but, if you need someone to go to the trouble of shopping, assembling, packing, and mailing it to you, you can't really do better.

Click these smaller images to load a bigger one that you can read.

Since I already did a lengthy post about the service, I see no reason to repeat that here and am going to just focus on the contents. The box is called the "kouhaku" (red and white) box because the snacks follow a theme in terms of the colors of the items. This is quite appropriate for this time of year in Japan because it's nearly Valentine's Day and winter and spring are popular times for strawberry-flavored snacks to make their appearance. It'll also straddle the companion holiday for Valentine's Day in Japan ("White Day") which comes in March.

Keep in mind that you don't need me to explain these things. There is a color page with explanations in the box, but I can at least add some context and my own subjective feelings about these products in thumbnail format. I will be reviewing some of these items on their own in future posts.

In the box, we have a good selection of both the red and the white. There is also one small "wild card" item which is really not in alignment with either of these which I'll get to last. I'll start with the longer list which includes the red:

Tyrant Habanero Savory Bacon Flavor - I'm a huge fan of the "Tyrant Habanero" line of products because of their strong heat and savory notes. This one is, oddly, not listed on the Tohato web site at present, but that makes it no less welcome. You can always tell this product line because of the evil hot-pepper-o-lantern on the bag. The five peppers reveal that this is one of the hotter products in their line-up. I've reviewed these items no small number of times in the past.

Ichimi Sembei - I am a sucker for the old-fashioned enormous rice crackers that you can get as souvenirs in Japan. I'll admit that even though this isn't as flashy or as approachable to Western palates as the rest of the box, this is the thing I was happiest to see included. This has togarashi, a spicy capsicum which is often ground and placed on tables in Japanese restaurants which offer dishes that can benefit from their addition. It's similar to the way red pepper flakes show up in Italian restaurants or pizza places in the U.S.

Harvest Choco Sand Strawberry Milk - In the last box that I received from ZenPop, I got the mont blanc flavor of this snack and was disappointed because there was a coconut back-drop that dominated. I'm hoping these will be better, but I'm pessimisstic. The Harvest biscuit line always has a strong coconut flavor and I can only hope that it pairs better with strawberry filling than the fake-tasting mont blanc of the previous offering.

Nissin Crisp Choco Strawberry - I know Nissin mainly for it's savory meal offers including instant noodles. I used to see these snacks, which I regard as sort of a "Choco Flake" pie/pizza, but never bought one due to the larger footprint. I always liked "Choco Flake", which is chocolate-covered cornflakes, so I'm looking forward to trying this.

Bourbon Petit Strawberry Langues de Chat - Langues de Chat are like a Milano cookie on a diet - thing, crispy, delicate cookies with a candy-like choclate filling. Bourbon's version in these long tube-like packages is a baby version of the slimmed down Milano.

Meito Puku Puku Tai Strawberry - This is one of a handful of kid's snacks in the box. "Puku puku" means bubbling or puffy (among other things) and refers to the foamy, whipped center of the cake-cone-style "fish's" filling. The outer shell, a monaka, is generally pretty tasteless and mainly lends texture. I'm expecting this to be more of a textural delight than a flavor one. Chances are the filling will be pretty sweet and the shell quite bland so it should be interesting to try.

Chocolate Veil Strawberry - These are a new product to me in terms of the brand name, and it looks very interesting in terms of the construction. The outside looks like a thing, crispy shell and has a softer, whipped-looking filling. I don't know if this is new or if it's just that I haven't lived in Japan for six years now, but I am looking forward to something different.

Cororo Strawberry Gummy - The picture of these on the package is odd. They look really round and slightly puckered and bring to mind umeboshi. The description in ZenPop's flyer says they are like grapes. This would be something new as I don't recall ever seeing this type of gummy when I lived in Japan before.

White Items:

Alfort Vanilla White candy/cookies - Alfort occupies an interesting space in the Japanese snack world. It looks like a candy on the front with a solid slab of chocolate and a cookie on the back with a full tiny biscuit perfectly embedded in it. In the past, I reviewed the green tea version and really liked them. I've already sampled these and they are like cookies and cream in the overall flavor profile. The white chocolate is much better balanced than most as it is not cloyingly sweet. They are delicious. It's too bad that the Alfort brand isn't available in the U.S. as it's a more elegant sort of candy and is in individual pieces for good portion control.

Blanchul Hokkaido Milk cookies - These look like langue de chat by another name to me. I reviewed a mont blanc (chestnut) version of these previously and loved them.

Baby Star Shio (Salt) and Baby Star Chicken (2 separate packets) - I have to admit that these are the two things I'm the least interested in. Though I have reviewed Baby Star ramen snacks before, and at least liked them a bit, I have to say that I've never felt that I was eatier junkier junk food than when I tried ramen salted snacks. They tend toward being very salty, crunchy, and carby in a way that makes me feel even guiltier than if I were eating corn or potato snacks.

Yogurt-flavored White Caburi-Chew - This one is completely new to me in that I not only have never tried this brand, but I've never seen it. We'll see if I get to keep my fillings. I am happy for a yogurt-flavored item in the mix though. It's a flavor that is less commonly represented in snack boxes.

Sapporo Potato Vegetable - Though I wasn't disappointed to find this included, it's also one of the easiest imports that you can locate in Asian and import markets. Also, my previous experience with a "pebbly" (tsubu tsubu) variety was not encouraging so I'll have to see if this is better.

Nori Okaki & Peanuts - Along with the big, spicy sembei cracker, this was something else I was delighted to have included. It's produced by my favorite rice cracker manufacturer in Japan - and, yes, I know it's weird to have a favorite sembei brand - so I have high expectations.

And, the wild card is: Mikan Mochi. It's included in the "White" section because mochi is usually white, but these are tiny little orange blobs that you poke with a toothpick to pick up and eat. This is also a new item to me (and a kid's snack) so it should be interesting.

I'll be reviewing as much of these items as I can, though I do have a tendency to eat them up faster than I can write reviews.

I have to say that I'm pleased with the overall mix of salty and sweet as well as the textural variations and the "modern" (e.g., chocolates and cookies) and the "traditional" (e.g., sembei). Though I can't say this would be the mix I'd perfectly pick if I was buying for my tastes and mine alone, I think it's a good sampler pack for someone who isn't me (and I'm not narcissistic enough to think everything should revolve around my tastes.

I'll note that I got an e-mail yesterday and ZenPop is offering a discount if you'd like to give their service a try. This is the graphic that was included in the message I received which details the promotion and the code you can use:

Note: I am not promoting ZenPop, though they did provide me with a free sample box for review purposes.