Today I’m going to introduce you dagashi (駄菓子), cheap snacks popular especially among Japanese children. They usually cost around 10 yen at the lowest and are often compared to American penny candy.
To explain why I decided to introduce dagashi, I actually had a pretty interesting conversation about them with my friend and his dad yesterday. They compared the snacks they had eaten during their childhood, how they had carefully used the little pocket-money they had received to different kinds of tiny treats. Listening to this conversation, I remembered the snacks I ate as a kid. Those sour belts, baby lollipops and candy sprays. I honestly wanted to go buy some of those right away and spend some nostalgic moments eating them. However, since I’m in Japan right now and can’t get my hands on those right now, I decided to take an adventure to the world of Japanese dagashi.
And I went a bit crazy.
This is actually only half of the amount I originally threw to my shopping cart. I have eaten dagashi sometimes before too but it has been such as long time that I just wanted to taste everything I saw. In the end, I started to feel guilty watching Japanese kids around me, carefully counting their money and wondering what they can buy and what’s too expensive and had to return some to the shelf.
By the way, this pile of snacks cost around 300 yen. Now, since many of you probably don’t know what in the earth these snacks actually are and what they taste like, let me introduce them more closely.
These are probably the most well-known snacks in dagashi category, umaibou – directly translated as “delicious stick”. They’re made of corn and are usually salty, although there are also flavors like chocolate or sugar rusk which are sweet (you might think it’s obvious but in Japan, well, it’s sometimes not). This time I only managed to buy rather usual flavors such as mentai (salted pollock roe), salami and cheese but you can also find some more interesting flavors like teriyaki burger, pizza or beef tongue. They even used to have maccha cream flavor but it has unfortunately been discontinued.
If umaibou felt like an ordinary snack for you, these might be a bit more interesting. The one with BigKatsu written on it is basically the coating part of tonkatsu (deep-fried pork cutlet) but if you take a closer look to the ingredients list, it actually has things like fish surimi inside. Also, it’s definitely not crispy like tonkatsu…
The other two flat snacks also have fish surimi in them. The one with meat and vegetables pictured has a rather spicy yakiniku (grilled meat) flavor and the one with octopus is supposed to taste like octopus with vinegar. Red box in the right corner of the pic is rather famous snack named miyako konbu, vinegared kelp seaweed. It’s a bit sour but also kind of sweet – a snack you’ll love if you like konbu as much as I do.
In the pic on the right, you’ll see a big carrot-shaped bag. It might look interesting but it’s actually just ordinary puffed grain with some sugar added. I love puffed grain chocolate but this carrot kind of left me with a feeling of monotarinai – something lacking. I totally understand why Japanese kids love this though, it’s just too cute and also pretty big so you’ll get your money’s worth.
The one in the middle is called Choco bat ace, and it’s supposed to resemble baseball bat. Don’t be mislead by the name though: it’s actually mostly corn and you’ll only find chocolate in the coating. Still, it’s not as fragile as umaibou sticks so you probably could actually play baseball with. At least if you’re using puffed rice as a ball.
The one in the right is also a stick. It’s not corn though – it’s actually a hard candy. The coating is kinako, roasted soy flour. I really love kinako so I was kind of exited about eating this candy but, um, I guess I just continue eating kinako mochi when I feel like eating some kinako. Definitely would have loved this as a kid though.
Last but not least, butamen. It’s actually ramen noodles and you shouldn’t eat it without adding in boiling water first. I’m not really sure how kids eat this as a snack (I mean, isn’t this a meal?) but it was surprisingly tasty. It’s also quite affordable, only 60 yen. I’m not really sure if it’s cheap though, considering the net weight of noodles is only 30 grams.
There are also many other dagashi I wanted to introduce, like senbei rice cakes with plum sauce and dried pickled plum snacks. Yeah, I’m perfectly in plum mood – it’s plum season here in Tokyo so I just can’t help it. Do any of my readers have some favorite dagashi snacks to share? I’d also love to hear which of these snacks seem the most delicious to you. Anything you would like to try? By the way, you can actually purchase these in Amazon as well in case you don’t have a chance to come to Japan. I won’t guarantee you’ll like all of them though but it’ll be a culinarius challenge for sure.