When Danie started in on #TheOtakuProject, I knew it was something I’d want to be a part of eventually. I’ve always been into Japanese things (anime, manga, video games), and even studied Japanese quite a bit in school, but my interest had waned over the years. I’ll probably get back to those other subjects soon, but when Danie ordered her first Japan Crate, my interest was piqued. Browsing around on their site, I saw quite a few other crates on offer, and decided to go with the instant-noodle focused Umai Crate (“umai” means tasty or delicious). Let’s crack it open and get to it!
WHAT’S IN THE BOX?!
The box makes a really nice impression when you first open it. I mean, they’re just instant noodles, so you’re not really going to hurt them if you just pack them in all willy-nilly, but everything feels like it’s been laid in with care – the bowls are nested together, and the bricks are tucked into just the right positions to make space for the larger items.
As with most subscription boxes, Umai Crate comes with a little booklet to explain what’s in the box. You get a little explanation of the package in question, the cooking directions, and even suggestions about additions you can make to your instant noodles. Pretty cool. On the back is a proper recipe you can make using one of the packages in the box. There’s also a description of the bonus item you get – this time it’s a color-changing timer that you put in the water when you boil eggs. It changes colors to indicate the hardness of the eggs.
Yamamoto Umakaro Negi Ramen
“This is another ramen from the Umakaro series! This one is a classic green onion ramen with a distinct shrimp flavor.
Try it with: Hard boiled egg, nori, bacon”
Packaged in a bit of a flimsy Styrofoam bowl, this was a pretty basic ramen – just a brick of noodles, a veggie packet, and a seasoning packet. So…was it Umai?!
Yeah, it was pretty Umai! It was pretty basic overall, but the broth had a richer, stronger flavor than your typical US cup ramen. Not a lot going for it, but nothing that was bad. A good start.
My Friend Big Tanuki Udon
“Tanuki Udon is an udon served in a hot dashi broth and topped with tempura pieces called Tenkasu. This particular one is from My Friend company’s Big series that is popular for their large size.
Try it with: Narutomaki, green onion, wakame seaweed”
The Big Tanuki came with a brick of noodles, a spice packet, and green onions, nori, and what looked like tempura fish skin loose in the bowl. So…was it Umai?!
This one was definitely Umai! I added some more green onion before cooking, and after cooking the tempura on the fish skin broke off and floated loose in the broth. Stirring these bits made them dissolve and gave everything a really rich fish flavor. I really enjoyed this one.
“Tempura and udon are a match made in comfort food heaven. This instant udon even comes with tiny tempura shrimp to enjoy with this Fall favorite.
Try it with: Tempura kabocha (pumpkin), green onion, nori”
One of the last of the cup varieties in this box, the Tempura Udon came with a brick of noodles, loose veggies and shrimp, and a sauce packet to stir in after cooking. So…was it Umai?!
It was…sort of Umai. The sauce that came in the packet had a really rich flavor on its own, but it didn’t translate to a very strong flavor in the final product. The noodles themselves were pretty plain, and while the tempura shrimp had a decent flavor, half of them were crunchy like shrimp tails. It’d do in a pinch, but wouldn’t be my first choice for an instant noodle.
Kenko Foods Genmai Ramen
“Kenko Foods is back with a healthy ramen to enjoy! Genmai ramen is made from brown rice which offers the fiber and benefits of the whole grain but the delicious taste of ramen.
Try it with: Spinach, bamboo shoots, narutomaki”
The first of three bricks in this Umai Crate, and a pretty simple one at that. Just a brick of noodles and a spice packet, nothing else. So…was it Umai?!
This was not Umai, but it’s not really due to the flavors or the ingredients themselves. The noodles tasted fine, with the slightly firmer texture of a whole grain pasta, and the broth itself tasted fine, if rather plain. But from somewhere in the mixture of the two came a strong, sweetish aroma that was really off-putting. It’s really hard to figure out – the noodles didn’t have any hint of that aroma in the way they tasted, and neither did the broth, but up out of the bowl wafted this strange scent. Maybe the little floaty seed things released it as they sat in the hot broth…but then wouldn’t that leech some flavor into the soup too?
I have no idea. All I know is that I didn’t enjoy it.
Kirin Shio Ramen
“Kirin ramen is not only a delicious, instant ramen but also a classic food icon. It is known for its nostalgic taste, domestic ingredients, retro packaging, and ability to be enjoyed in many ways. Taste a Japanese favorite in this month’s salt broth ramen
Try it with: Corn, nori, hard boiled egg”
I really did enjoy the retro, somewhat minimalist packaging. Another simple brick type, with just noodles and a spice packet. So…was it Umai?!
I’m not gonna lie, I was a little nervous after the last one…but this was pretty Umai! There wasn’t anything outstanding about this ramen, but there certainly wasn’t anything bad. The broth had a really clean, simple flavor – the perfect thing to warm you up on a cold day. Thumbs up.
Michio Kawamura’s Kimchi Miso Ramen
“Michio Kawamura is a Japanese radio personality whose main focus is on nature and healthy foods. He is bringing the traditional Korean dish, Kimchi, to Japanese ramen so everyone can enjoy its vitamin rich and stomach boosting benefits.
Try it with: Bean sprouts, green onions, corn”
Yeah…I don’t think instant ramen would ever qualify as a healthy food, unless maybe you replaced the noodles with actual kimchi, and the spice and sauce packets with kimchi as well. Regardless, I was excited for this one because I’m a kimchi fan. So…was it Umai?!
Yeah, this was super Umai! It didn’t exactly taste like kimchi, but it was nice and spicy overall, with a really rich flavor to the broth. Easily the best ramen in the crate so far, and something I’d definitely seek out if I regularly ate instant noodles.
Yamamoto Umakaro Yakisoba (Hiroshimayaki)
The final package in the November crate was also the one used to make the specialty recipe on the back of the booklet – with a few added ingredients, the recipe walked me through how to make an okonomiyaki, which I topped with the yakisoba noodles.
“Yakisoba has always been a popular item in our crates! This month we have a special Umakaro Yakisoba that we think would be perfect to use for Hiroshimayaki. Okonomiyaki is a popular festival food in Japan that’s kind of a mix between a pizza and a pancake. Every region in Japan has its own special Yakisoba, adding in different ingredients to make each one unique. Hiroshima is known for adding yakisoba into okonomiyaki. Hence, Hiroshimayaki!”
The yakisoba on its own had a really nice smoky, meaty flavor to it, but how would it fare in the Hiroshimayaki? Was it Umai?!
It might not look like much, but the Hiroshimayaki was super Umai! The pancake itself was made with flour, chicken stock, and a beaten egg, with shredded cabbage throughout. Topped with the smoky yakisoba, an okonomiyaki sauce made of bbq and worcestershire sauces, spinach, green onion, and a bit of mayo, this was delicious. Smoky, spicy, and with a nice bit of crunch from the fresh veggies, I could eat this every day. I’ve never had real okonomiyaki before, but I definitely want to try it now, because if the instant noodle version was this good, the real thing must be outstanding!
So that’s it for the November Umai Crate! Was it worth it? I’d say…mostly. There were only a few items that I didn’t enjoy, and I got to try a bunch of instant noodles that I wouldn’t have eaten otherwise. But as good as some of them tasted, at the end of the day they were just…well, instant noodles. If you’re in the instant noodle demographic, this would definitely be a lot of fun and a nice change of pace from the stuff you find in the US. I haven’t eaten ramen noodles in a long time, so this was a fun blast from the past, but sometimes it left me wanting something more substantial. It was fun to try, though.