I am going to be honest with you here and admit straight up that I stole the idea for this article from Irina. Or, more accurately, I saw Irina’s article about her snack-box delivery and thought to myself: hey, that’s a great idea for a blog post! So what you’re going to get here is nothing new or original; just my take on a similar but different product from the one covered in Irina’s post.
So, that said, what is Bokksu?
Well, basically, Bokksu is one of a number of companies who’ve sprung up in recent years whose basic aim is to give westerners a “taste” of Japan. Well, I guess their basic aim is to make a shed-load of money by providing westerners a “taste” of Japan – but, hey, why let the sordid capitalist details get in the way of the romantic ideal? In Bokksu’s case, they mean “taste” in the quite literal sense: once a month (or maybe it’s closer to once every six weeks, what with the COVID delivery delays and all), you receive a box of tasty (or, at the very least, “interesting”) treats to try out your tastebuds.
There are various different subscriptions with different rates; I have a quarterly subscription with monthly delivery. Each month has a different theme or seasonal motif that determines the types of treats within each delivery. There are also periodic specials (for example, every Christmas I get the massive Kit-Kat variety box which is filled with all the weird and wonderful Kit-Kat varieties found only in Japan) as well as an online “market” where you can purchase individual items.
Bokksu’s slogan is “discover Japan through snacks” which is a tad grandiose, if you ask me; and on the cover of each box you are assured that “premium Japanese snacks” lie within. Interestingly, the website tells you that, with each subscription, small family-run businesses are being supported; and, possibly even more importantly, the traditional crafts which go into their snack-making are being preserved. How true that is, I have no idea; but I will admit that I like the thought of small artisan snack-makers, instead of being swallowed up or driven out of business by a large company, are being fostered and sustained through a partnership. At least, I hope that’s what’s happening.
Anyhoo, enough of the palaver. Let’s get to the snacks.
Well, okay, not just yet. First, there’s the issue of what comes in the box with the snacks. This is an attractive little booklet which, on the cover, tells you the theme or seasonal motif articulated through the accompanying snacks. Unfortunately, this month’s was “Pink Valentine” because, as if we didn’t need reminding, Valentine’s Day is just a few weeks away. Valentine’s Day is – apparently – a big deal in Japan, although my understanding is that the Japanese take on the day itself is slightly different from what goes on in the west (and, let’s face it, it wouldn’t be Valentine’s Day in Japan if it wasn’t). Still and all, the Japanese appear to have taken to this day with all the commercial enthusiasm of a greeting card writer; and so apparently this, in the minds of the good folks at Bokksu, makes it worth theming a whole month’s worth of snacks “Pink Valentine”.
Inside, you’ll find all sorts of interesting details, like a map of Japan and all the regions from whence your current consignment of treats derive (hey, maybe you can discover Japan through snacks!) as well as, toward the rear of the booklet, a brief expose on a particular snack, its history, and how it’s made. Helpfully, you are also given very clear allergen information.
There’s even a page where you can even learn a couple of Japanese words, usually related to the monthly/seasonal theme. This month it included words like amai (“sweet”, because Valentine’s Day is obviously so sweet for so many of us) – although I hate to tell them that their hiragana is incorrect. It should be あまい and not あま. (Just to make sure, I did some research: according to my Takoboto Japanese dictionary, あま can mean, among other things, “bitch” or “nun” – make of that what you will.)
The bulk of the booklet, however, is taken up with descriptions of the various snacks in each box, and that’s what this post will now also proceed to do.
First off the rack are “Spicy Mini Heart Senbei”. These are itty bitty heart-shaped rice crackers variously flavoured in black sesame, mustard, or green seaweed, all topped with chili powder. Which, if you ask me, is a kinda odd treat to be giving your Dearly Beloved for Valentine’s Day. It seems to me that if you gave them the kind of snack that will either blister their tongue or fry their larynx, you can forget about any make-out action later. On the other hand, you might just clear out their sinuses, in which case, who knows – chili topped treats might just be your get lucky charm.
Next on the list are “Mini Chocolate Millefeuille”. I am not even going to try and pronounce that last word; though being “mini” seems to be a sub-theme in this box, possibly in keeping with the Japanese aesthetic of kawaii or cuteness (because, again, everything and everyone is cute on Valentine’s Day). These are apparently layers of wafer with cream in between, all of it coated in chocolate. Which, if you ask me, sounds mighty fine indeed!
Proceeding merrily on our way, we arrive at destination “Handmade Ume Sake Candy”. These are pale yellow lozenge-sized hard candy of the type that are usually described as “old fashioned” and which either break your teeth are glue your jaws shut. But, to be honest, I only got as far as “Ume Sake”. Ume (plum) sake (as well as yuzu sake) is one of my most favourite things in the whole world. At this stage, I’m just wondering if these bad boys can be boiled down on the stove and turned into sake goo…
Now, before you start wondering if I have a drinking problem (and I don’t), let’s return to the land of chocolate (ha – who knew I’d get a Homer Simpson reference into this post?). Specifically, “Bake Chocolate”, which my booklet tells me are “rich and fluffy chocolate…baked to perfection”. The booklet also says these are “great for sharing with your loved ones” – as if!
So before any unseemly squabbling over the chokkies occurs, let’s move right along to the “Petit Noribei Rice Crackers” – which, given my extensive knowledge of French, leads me to the conclusion that we are once more in the realm of “mini” (but with a cool accent and more sex appeal). I suspect, if you’re going to insist on giving your Significant Other a rice based snack for Valentine’s Day, this is a much better option than the heartburn bikkies (see above). Being seaweed and soy flavoured, they’re probably ideal for that special Mermaid/man in your life.
Or, if a seaweed treat for Valentine’s Day doesn’t grab your fancy – how about a kelp based rice cracker instead? And not just kelp, either – but kelp flavoured with vinegar! Is it just me, or are the evil geniuses at Bokksu trying to make absolutely sure we don’t get any action on Valentine’s Day in 2022…possibly as an anti-COVID measure?
Okay, time for a change, methinks! And what could be further from the eye-watering prospect of kelp and vinegar than the tooth-ache inducing sweetness of “Hokkaido White Raspberry”. This is a biscuit (but not a cracker!) that combines rye, rice, puffed corn and white chocolate and sprinkles the whole thing with bits of raspberry (or raspberry-like substance). Looking rather like a blood-spray pattern on a Hokkaido snowfield, I bet these will still get you further with your Intended (and your intentions for them) than the avalanche of rice-crackers we’ve waded through to date.
Look, I’ll admit it: I thought a yam was a tuber-like vegetable belonging in the same general family as sweet potato, cassava, and taro. But in Japan, apparently, it can also be a filling for pastries. Hence, Hokohoko Purple Yam, a “purpleicious” (their word, not mine!) pastry made with pie crust and filled with “mildly sweet” purple yam paste. I think this might be one to test out on the dog first and see how they react before trying it myself…
And leaving the best to last, we come to what is without a doubt one of my favourite bits of the Bokksu box: the sachets of tea. I kid you not, I’ve had some great tea arrive via Bokksu, and Hoji-cha (along with Genmai-cha) is one of my favourite varieties of Japanese tea. And I don’t care how blisteringly hot it is here in the Great Southern Land at the moment; as soon as a cool change blows in, I’m boiling myself a brew.
And on that happy note, that’s where I’ll leave this journey of discovery. There were other snacks in this consignment – more rice crackers, more “mini” chocs, etc – but I think the above is a pretty good representative sample.
But before I do depart – did I receive any consideration from Bokksu for writing this post? Ha – I wish! And am I recommending you take up a Bokksu subscription? Nope – that’s absolutely for you to decide. I just thought I’d share this with you because I think it’s kinda fun and I, at least, enjoy the product. But as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, Bokksu is just one of a number of these delivery-type organisations offering an “experience” of Japan, so if this is something you might be interested in, check them out for yourself and make up your own mind (hell, you might even decide not to spend your hard-earned). But just to help you along (and because I am that kind of a stand-up guy) here’s some links to these fine purveyors of Nihon-no merchandise:
Text and Photographs © Copyright Brendan E Byrne 2022. All rights reserved.