Although this is my second Zenpop Japan box, I was still thrilled. I guess I’m one of those people who like the element of surprise subscription boxes bring. You never know what you will discover inside, and for the most part it’s something totally new. Zenpop Japan sent me this Northern Japan Ramen Box a month ago. It obviously took me a while to get through it. But apart from reviewing the box, I decided to write about it now because I feel like it would make a really great gift for Japanophiles, or just lovers of subscription boxes in general.
I know a lot of people who enjoy Japan and Japanese food products, and I think this would be a really fun way for them to get introduced to new things. Zenpop actually introduced a service where you can send the box as a gift, and since you have the option to do a one-time subscription, it works out as a Christmas or birthday gift. International shipping is FREE, although shipping time to the Philippines can be a bit long so decide quick! (I’m not sure if it will make it by Christmas.)
Zenpop Japan actually curates four different kinds of boxes. There is a Sweets Box (like the one they sent me before), a ramen box which I will talk about today, a Sweets + Ramen combo box, and a Japanese stationery box. The theme and the contents of the box changes every month. The November pack features noodles hailing from Northern Japan, specifically Hokkaido. Since Hokkaido is known for making amazing dairy, dairy products, and produce, this box features all of those things in instant ramen form. In this box, there are a bunch of noodles with butter and corn, plus one featuring miso, which is another Hokkaido specialty.
As you know, Hokkaido is my favorite prefecture in Japan. I’ve been there a couple of times and I have a pretty good idea of what the food from there is like. Obviously, I don’t expect instant noodles to match up to anything freshly cooked, but I want to see if this box does capture the essence of Hokkaido’s food scene as it claims. Let’s see what’s inside!
Maruchan QTTA Tomato Cheese Cream Ramen
Description: Creamy cheesy tomato soup with flat, wide ramen similar to fettuccine pasta. These noodles are classified as tsuya-mochi, or glossy and chewy. They match perfectly well with the creamy soup. To make it better, add sautéed onions. Cooks in 3 minutes.
My comments: This was a treat! It smelled so good once it was ready, and frankly I thought it was going to be one of those gimmicky, artificial-tasting instant noodles. It was actually very enjoyable! The soup is a creamy, pizza-flavored one with clear tomato notes.
I also love the flat, wide, chewy noodles they used here. It really holds the creamy soup in each strand. The only thing I want is more toppings. Nonetheless, this was one of my favorites from the box!
Myojo Koku Shio Butter Ramen
Description: This ramen is perfect if you have a craving for something salty and buttery. It has a packet of butter oil, which you’re supposed to add and mix right before you eat the ramen. It has a satisfying richness that helps you feel warm and cozy during the long winters in Northern Japan. Cooks in 3 minutes.
My comments: In all respects, I agree with the description of this ramen. It’s rich without going overboard. It has a buttery and salty broth, but it’s not the sort of buttery that is greasy. It is indeed a mellow sort of buttery that will definitely satisfy anyone craving for something buttery AND salty too. It can start to feel a bit too salty as you go through the cup though.
I wish the noodles were a little thicker, but I do appreciate the abundant toppings. This is one of the noodles that made a big impression on me too, starting with the smell down to the taste.
Acecook Potato Butter Shio Ramen
Description: A cup noodle with a block of butter included inside. This noodle has a creamy salty soup, with rich pork extract and plenty of onions and garlic flavors. Toppings are chunky potatoes, with the colorful trio of carrots, corn, and scallions. The butter is added to the soup just before eating. Cooks in 3 minutes.
My comments: That block of butter was an interesting touch! That said, this made for a milder-tasting ramen compared to the aforementioned Koku Shio Butter Ramen that uses a powder and oil combo to flavor its broth. (At least it’s not as salty!) The quality of this one seems higher overall though. It has thicker noodles and just enough toppings to eat with them. I am impressed with how the dehydrated potatoes comes back to life.
As for which of the two potato-butter ramens I like better, it will depend on whether I’m in the mood for something milder, of something with the full force of salted butter in the broth.
Myojo Vegetable Paitan Tanmen
Description: Paitan refers to creamy white ramen broth, and while this instant ramen does not make a broth as thick as the ones from the restaurants, it’s still good. It has a kasane-dashi, or multi-layered broth, with chicken, pork, and vegetables. Toppings are cabbage, corn, and carrots, but you can add a sliced boiled egg and sesame seeds on top. Cooks in 4 minutes.
My comments: This ramen claims to have a creamy broth, and while it doesn’t really have that, I like it just the way it is. It has a satisfying mouth-feel without the overwhelming sense of thick cream. It doesn’t look impressive at all when you first open it up, and frankly I wish it had more toppings and had thicker noodles, but there’s something about the flavor of this I enjoy.
It’s that no-frills, slightly creamy ramen that one could eat everyday. This might’ve made it into my favorites if it had more toppings.
Maruchan Soymilk Sesame Miso Ramen
Description: Made with soymilk that gives a boost in protein and imparts a slight sweetness that enhances the umami. The smooth textured noodles and the rich but mellow sesame miso broth almost melt together in the mouth. Toppings are minced chicken and corn, but you can add a few drops of sesame oil to elevate the ramen. Cooks in 5 minutes.
My comments: This smelled amazing. Or maybe I’m just THAT partial to miso ramen, I don’t know. This hit all the right notes for me, and whatever over-saltiness the broth has can be easily remedied by adding more water. It’s a classic miso ramen with just a touch of sweetness and some nice toppings which I wish we had more of. (I love corn!) I like how the noodles kind of puff up into these chubby strings that are super slurp-able.
Maruchan Chikara Mochi Udon
Description: Chikara means power, and this instant udon adds a mochi in to give you extra strength. The chewy udon is topped with a flat piece of mochi that gets softer as it soaks in the soup. It’s best to pour your boiled water over the mochi to make sure it softens up. This is an excellent choice for supper, when you’re feeling exhausted and need an energy boost after a long day. This kind of udon is actually widely available in the Kansai area. Cooks in 5 minutes.
My comments: This contains 3 packets inside, one of which is a flat piece of mochi. You have to make sure you soak the mochi inside the hot water or else it will not soften in time with the noodles. The noodles are the flat and wide kind, so it takes more time to cook, but it doesn’t take THAT long. The taste of the broth is that of a very typical kitsune udon, complete with the bits of tofu skin that fill up with soup. It’s very comforting, and the mochi actually adds to that comforting feel. I wish I waited for the mochi to soften up a lot more though.
Not my favorite from the box, but the most familiar-tasting in this box.
Ippei-Chan Yomise-No Fried Potato & Mayonnaise Yakisoba
Description: A yakisoba that has the taste of freshly harvested Hokkaido potatoes inside. It is seasoned with salt and pepper, a chicken based flavor pack, and colorful furikake sprinkles. You then mix in a special mayo with the noodles to enrich the taste. Cooks in 3 minutes.
I really appreciate the ingenuity of these kinds of packaging. To whoever invented this: GOOD JOB!
My comments: This yakisoba looks to be the most bland and colorless of all. In fact it almost looks like just noodles, but you’ll be surprised by the ample flavor when you take a bite. Just make sure you mix it properly. The taste is one that I’ve definitely experienced before, except it has mayo undertones. There are too few potato bits in this classic-tasting yakisoba though. I reckon you could add more mayo. More potatoes, and even a dash of teriyaki sauce to improve this.
To be honest, as a fan of subscription boxes and Japanese food products, the Zenpop Japan boxes feel like something that’s made for me. I’m sure people with similar tastes as me would know the feeling. When I’m in Japan, I enjoy shopping in the food aisles so much I always ALWAYS max out the weight requirements for my luggage. I’m always open to trying new Japanese food products, so indeed a Zenpop Japan box is perfect for me. I may not like everything that’s inside the box, but there’s joy for me in the trying.
However, I will concede that it’s an expensive thing to regularly subscribe to. I would be willing to shell out USD 27 for a box of premium ramen or special edition ramen, but maybe not the normal, convenience store kinds. I think Zenpop Japan goes for a mix of limited edition and convenience store brands. Their January Ramen Box looks incredibly intriguing!
Aside from that, one of the things that really stops me from subscribing to this service is the amount of time it takes to get to me. Because they use free international shipping, it’s not registered mail, and we all know the post office in this country is not the most efficient. I once received one of my boxes after about 6 months of it sitting in the post office. By then, most of the contents inside were three months past the expiry date. It’s really hit or miss with the post office over here. I did find out you can opt to add tracking for just USD 3. That’s some peace of mind at least.
That said, if you’re thinking of giving these as a Christmas gift, I totally think it’s totally worth it as long as you’re going to give it to a person who appreciates this kind of stuff. Someone like me lol. If you’re curious about the Sweets Box Zenpop Japan sent me before, you can check out the video below or read the blog post for a more detailed review. In my opinion though, the ramen box is more worth it. You can’t really fill up your tummy with candy and snacks.
Full disclosure: I was sent a PR package by Zenpop Japan for review. All opinions reflected in this post are my own.