Random Ephemera

Tradition, Un-Birthdays and Random Japanese Junk Food: My First Japan Crate

My wife is fond of randomness. Odd little surprises showing up on our doorstep has become a pretty consistent thing over the past few years, from sample packs of lip gloss for her and the girls to what amounts to pint-size pulp fiction for the baby. A few years ago, she latched onto a concept from my childhood, a tradition my grandmother started. Every time one of my brothers or I had a birthday, the un-birthday boys would get an un-birthday box. It was meant to ameliorate the sting of watching the lucky kid open his actual presents, and usually came stuffed with odds and ends Grandmother had picked up from the church auxiliary thrift store at which she volunteered. One particularly fortuitous (and frustrating) box contained a copy of Rad Gravity, the most maddening NES game ever created. But I digress.

After talking about the tradition with my cousin Jennifer, my wife began packing off Boxes of Crap to her kids once or twice a year. A given BoC may contain anything from candy to cheap sunglasses to whoopie cushions. (Sorry, Jenn and Sean.) Apparently, the young cousins love the Boxes of Crap tradition as much as my brothers and I loved our un-birthday boxes. 

Naturally, when she found out that there are entire services dedicated to the random-box-of-crap lifestyle, she jumped at the opportunity. Before I knew it (literally; I had no idea she was signing up), a box full of random Japanese junk food showed up on my doorstep. At first, I was irritated. I mean, nobody needs $25 worth of puffed snacks flavored like corn soup and green tea-filled hard candies arriving on a monthly basis. Of course, as soon as they started opening packages and tasting things, I wanted in. I didn't get to try everything (the kids are nimble-fingered and sneaky), but I did get to try most of it. Here are my thoughts. 

Yakiniku Super Heart Chiple
This reminds me of Sharpstown, c. 1993. I had just moved here from South Bend, Indiana, and subsisted on packaged ramen during the first summer both of my parents had worked at the same time. That's what Super Heart Chiple smells like. Opening the bag was a sensory time warp. Flavor-wise, these were savory, but in a weirdly vague sense. Kind of like the blank but satisfying taste of pure MSG. Aside from that, it's mostly dehydrated onion with a sweet finish. The chips have a really nice crispness that makes them very enjoyable to eat. I got about three of these before the kids pounced like a pack of hyenas. 

Nagai Sour Gummy
I'm not huge on sour candies in general, so perhaps this one just wasn't for me. This has a texture like softened Swedish fish rolled in sugar, and tastes like it's flavored with Flintstones vitamins. I ain't about that Red Fred life.

Umai Bar Tonkatsu (Pork Cutlet) Sauce Flavor Snacks
These were essentially "Savory Kellogg's Corn Pops."

Riska Corn Pottage Puffs
This was super-weird. It comes on sweet, then swings south with flavors of old chives and onions. Something fish-sauce-y, then a corn sweetness, but like Kix corn. Intense, kaleidoscopic flavors. Something acidic, but not in a good way. A bit like vomit, if vomit weren't entirely gross. It morphs and changes, like the oil slick monster in that Stephen King short story. I honestly don't know how I feel about this one.

Choco Shinamikonja Imashita
These chocolate crackers are texturally interesting, somehow fudge-y and crispy at the same time. It's an airy crispness. The chocolate flavor tastes simulated, though, with an odd corn aftertaste. It's strangely savory, but that might be lingering notes of corn pottage. These are also strangely addictive.

Okashina Salon DIY Kit
Apparently, this is more or less the combination of Laffy Taffy and a Play-Doh molding kit. You roll the candy around in your gross, sweaty palms and mold it into various hairstyles, or extrude it through the top of a little plastic doll mold. I say apparently, because I never actually tried this one. I would have, but the kids got to it first, and I didn't relish the thought of a shaped charge made of sloughed off skin cells and bacteria. 

Umai Sittori Choco
Another one I didn't get to try. The way the story goes, my wife opened these, shared a few with the kids and then turned her back for a second. The baby, Josh, grabbed the bag off of the table and headed for the hills, spilling them all over the floor in the process. He shoved as many into his mouth at once as he could before my wife could get to him. Babies love  floor food. My wife said she liked them, praising their crispy texture. The kids said they tasted like plastic. Josh didn't say anything. His mouth was too full. 

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Nicholas L. Hall is a husband and father who earns his keep playing a video game that controls the U.S. power grid. He also writes for the Houston Press about food, booze and music, in an attempt to keep the demons at bay. When he's not busy keeping your lights on, he can usually be found making various messes in the kitchen, with apologies to his wife.
Contact: Nicholas L. Hall