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:


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).


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.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Fujiya Anpanman Korokoro Ball Chocolate

Though these balls are chocolate coated bits of crunchy cookie, they are kin of M & Ms in a way other than being small and a chocolate coated confection. They melt in your mouth, not in your hands according to Fujiya's web site. I'm guessing the fact that the claim is in Japanese will keep them from being sued for slogan theft.

These are fortified with Calcium derived from egg shells so you could claim these were healthy treats, but you'd be a liar because the first ingredient is sugar. Sugar is the great destroyer of nutritional value when it's quantity eclipses all of the others by a large margin.

The ball pictured on the box is about the same size as the actual candy. They're similar in size to a pea. The interior biscuit is the weaker of the flavors in this candy. It's such a tiny amount and mainly is there for crunch, but you can catch a faint hint of it on the first one or two of these that you eat (before your tongue is overwhelmed by the sugar and most of the subtle flavors are cancelled out).

The chocolate on the outside is firm and seems coated with something to help it not melt. It has a nice flavor, but it's not the strongest cocoa flavor that you're going to encounter in a candy. I loved the texture a lot, but I'm big into crunchy things. There isn't a ton of complexity there, but these are still fun to eat.

The boxes for this candy each feature a different pair of friendly characters from the Anpanman cartoon. There is something sweet about their expressions and it's probably a cool little bonus for fans of the show.

Note: These were part of my free sweets box from ZenPop.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Lotte Strawberry Chocolate Pops

This is another form of "dagashi" (kid's snacks) with some cute and inventive design. The pops are designed to look like flowers that are tethered at the base. You snap them apart at the root to eat each "pop."

These aren't actually lollipops though. They're small amounts of chocolate (about the size of a Hershey's kiss) stuck on the end of a plastic stick. There's also a-guitar pick-shaped sticker inside. Mine was a strawberry monkey (monkee ichigo) who wears the top half of a strawberry (with an strangely placed and long stem) as his trousers. Filthy monkey.

The packaging on this is cute, but also smooth as silk to open. There's a tab at the bottom which you peel apart then pull up and it comes off easily and cleanly. This is the sort of thing which is part of Japanese marketing and products which is rare in the U.S. It's an attention to detail which makes the experience of consuming something much better there.

The novelty element of this is high. It's clearly designed more for fun than as food. The sticker, the colorful and cute characters, and the sticks make that clear. I generally have pretty low expectations of these types of things.

You can smell the strawberry element immediately and it actually smells authentic. If you eat it with the strawberry side facing your tastebuds, you get a very present and good, sweet strawberry flavor. It's reminiscent of jam mixed with cocoa in a good way. The texture is soft and it's milkier than some other varieties. It's also fairly sweet, but not cloyingly so. The slight floral and tart notes from the strawberry help offset the sweetness.

For a kid's snack, this is quite amazingly well balanced in flavors with some complexity. Most kid's treats are one-note and too sweet, salty, or fatty to cater to their less developed palate, but this was one of the best strawberry chocolates I've tasted. I could have used a little more chocolate bitterness and it could have been a hair less sweet, but, overall, this was a winner.

This item was part of my free ZenPop Japanese snacks box.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Asahi Blueberry Cheese Tart Bar

Though Asahi is best known for its beer, the "Asahi Group" makes other products including snacks, personal care products, and soft drinks. I don't drink beer, but, after tasting this bar, I think maybe they should stick to what they're best known for.

My expectations fo this were quite low considering that it's a nutritional bar/meal replacement type of thing. I didn't expect it to taste great, particularly since it's only 191 calories and a fairly dense bar. The information on the front tells me that this is 9% cheese and .29% blueberry. Though the picture on the package shows a ton of full berries lying around and embeddedin the bar, the flavor and appearance of them is completely absent in the actual bar.

The aroma of this is distinctly cheesy, and not in a good way. It is more like a heavily distilled processed cheese smell. Imagine what it would smell like if you boiled some plastic-covered slices until the odor intensified and you'll get a sense of it.

The taste is pretty funky. There's the odd discordant sense of sweetness mixed with a traditionally savory cheese (Gouda). The texture is crumbly and dense. It looks chalky, but it is more like a shortbread. The bar is very fatty and has 10 grams of fat. There is little to distinugish the "crust" of the tart from the filling in terms of taste or texture.

This is more of a cheese cookie thing that a tart or even a meal bar. It's the sort of weird food that people either have a taste for or they don't. I actually liked the texture, but I did not like the taste or smell.

Note: This was part of my free ZenPop snack box.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Tohato Ura-Caramel Corn Double Cheese

In England, I'm told that many people refer to any vacuum cleaner as a "Hoover" whether it is made by the Hoover company or not. And, in the U.S., very few people call a facial tissue anything but a "Kleenex" regardless of whether they're blowing their nose into that brand or not. In Japan, staplers are called "Hotchkiss" because that was a popular brand there. It's certainly not uncommon for a brand name of a product to become the name of the item.

Based on the naming of this product,  I'm wondering if "caramel corn" is something people see as representing any product which looks like a curly puff whether it is sweet and contains caramel or not. I have sampled this and there is no caramel in it, though there is corn.

This is a fairly standard cheese-flavored corn puff. The texture is a step above what we tend to see in the U.S. It's lighter, crispier, and lacks the "foam-like" texture you sometimes get in cheaper versions of corn puffs. The texture really couldn't be more appealing. The cheese flavoring is fine, but a bit on the subdued side. This is odd since the ingredients state the flavoring is 80% cheddar cheese and 18% Camembert. The Camembert hits as a finishing note and is distinct, though not potent. It will vanish entirely if you gobble too many down and your tastebuds acclimate to it.

Shockingly, one of the ingredients is "caramel powder," but I couldn't taste it at all nor was there much sweetness despite including Sucralose in the ingredients. If you do the math, the caramel powder is only 2% of the flavoring so it seems that it's there mainly as a token and to validate the naming.

There are some savory powders added in to improve flavor depth (e.g., katsuobushi or fish flavoring) but this still felt like it could use more of a punch. It's possible that my tastebuds after seven years back in the U.S. have lost their ability to detect subtle Japanese flavoring and that I'd have picked up on more of this had I not been "ruined" by life back home, but I tend not to eat too many salty snacks made here anyway.

This was a fine corn puff snack and I wasn't disappointed, though I felt it could have been more. I'll finish the bag for sure, but I won't be craving another.

Note: I received this product as part of my free ZenPop snack box.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Bourbon Petit Cheese Cracker

If you ever wondered what a Ritz cracker would look like if it could mate with another Ritz and reproduce, these cracker sandwiches will sate your curiosity. Imagine happy families of Ritz crackers and their tiny little babies sharing loving glances. Then, Bourbon comes along and rips the infants out of their parents hands, slathers them with cheese, and presses them together. Oh, the humanity!

Each cracker is about the size of my thumbnail and tastes a little buttery. It's easy to taste the cracker separately from the filling because they tend to fall apart. While the crackers are light and crispy and quite enjoyable, the filling is processed cheese and not quite, but close, to being flavorless. There is just the slightest hint of something cheesy, but it could be my imagination or smear of citric acid masquerading as a cheese-like substance at the dairy fancy dress ball.

As crackers go, these fill the bill pretty well. However, for cheese lovers, they just are disappointing. I didn't expect much, and the fact that there is only 8% cheese in the filling isn't helping matters. The packet contains about 25 cracker sandwiches and the whole lot is 245 calories. I didn't finish it because it just wasn't enjoyable enough. I'd rather go for crackers with real cheese.

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

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

ZenPop Sweets Box February 2019 unboxing (Cheese!)

When I was a child, I remember a commercial which showed a gorilla tossing around Samsonite luggage as a way of demonstrating how tough it was. Though I doubt gorillas tossed my ZenPop box around, it did encounter some sort of trauma in shipping. The boxes themselves are quite sturdy and this is the first time I've ever received one which took on any damage at all. Perhaps a gorilla did get to it to do such damage.

Whether or not the box is a beat up is not the question. The question is how the contents fared despite the hard knocks it took. Fortunately, not one item in the box was harmed despite the licking it took. It may have helped that many of the items were cheese-related and in puffy bags with air.

I am especially delighted with this box since the theme is cheese. I once told my husband that, if I had to eat one type of food and only one type of food for the rest of my life, it would be cheese. He even got me a cheese of the month club membership for Christmas. While not everything in the box is cheese themed, the overwhelming majority is.

There are more savory items, of course, because that's what one would expect from cheese.


Super Kari-Kari Cheese Pretz: This is supposed to be super crunchy because it's very thin.

Bourbon Petit Cheese Crackers: These are like tiny Ritz-style crackers with a cheese filling. They're a little like the Lance sandwich crackers that are so common in vending machines, except they are tiny.

Umai-Wa Cheese (corn snack rings): This is a ring version of the famous "umai bo" sticks. I'm guessing this will be little different than the sticks, but it'll likely be less messy.

Ura-Caramel Corn Double Cheese (corn snack curls): The information in the ZenPop box says these aren't "caramel" at all despite the name. Caramel corn is a brand in Japan as much as a flavor so I'm guessing that's why there is a misleading name.

Cheese Rice Crackers: These are small, hard crunchy rice snacks called "arare" (which I think means "hail", but it's been awhile and my Japanese is fading away). I loved this style of snack in Japan, though the did tend to be the least healthy version of sembei.

Horo Buono Cheddar Cheese (balls): I've never heard of anything like these, but they sound and look a lot like Planter's cheese balls.

Calbee Black Pepper and Cheese Potato Chips: Calbee makes the thinnest and crisipiest chips so I think these are going to be amazing.

Dagashi Cheese Snack: This is the funniest little thing because it is so tiny. It's supposed to be Camembert-flavored cheese with fish paste, but I'll have to take the tiniest of bites to get a sense of it considering it's smaller than the top half of my pinky finger.


Crunky Baked Cheese Tart: This is a weird one because it's a chocolate bar which is made with gouda. Most sweets that are made with cheese in America are made with cream cheese. This is a little like the baked KitKat though and is can be toasted to bring out a unique experience.

Asahi Cheese Tart Bar: This is a "healthy" bar fortified with vitamins. It is supposed to be a dough/cheesecake type of center with a cookie wrapped around it (much like a tart with cheese filling).

Choco-ball Chocolate Banana Flavor: This is supposed to be a chocolate biscuit covered with banana-flavored chocolate. It sounds terrible actually because banana-flavored anything tends to be disappointing.

Strawberry Chocolate: These are dagashi, or kid's snacks. They're strawberry chocolates on a stick (like a lollipop). I'm guessing these will be super sweet and artificially flavored.

Pikachu Ramune Candy: This is another dagashi with a ball that is strawberry outside and melon inside. Despite the name, it doesn't seem from the description like there is any ramune (Japanese soda) flavor.

Anpanman Ball Chocolate: The center of this is a cookie and the outside is chocolate. It's like a malted milk ball with a cookie center instead of malted milk.

Tirol Kinako Mochi Chocolate: This is the only item that I've reviewed before and it is super tasty. Previously, I reviewed the "premium" version (larger piece) and this appears to be  the smaller version, but it tastes the same.

I've said before that I believe that ZenPop's package has the best value for a snack pack and this box continues to convince me of that. There is a decent mix of sweet and savory as well as dagashi (children's snacks) and snacks designed for adults. If you'd like to consider ZenPop's box, you can buy one or subscribe by going to their site. Note that I was given this box for review at no cost. Hopefully, I'll do better reviewing the contents than I did with the previous box. ;-)