It’s finally here! This is the inaugural box for Japan Crate’s newest offering: the Umai Crate! It’s an auto-renewing monthly subscription that includes 7-8 packaged noodles plus one bonus surprise item. It sold out within 12 hours of being launched, but they have re-stocked and are currently accepting new subscribers.
Free shipping in the US.
Okay, so first I have some things I need to get off my chest about the shipping. On the website, it says that this box ships in the first week of the month. For this box, that means it should have shipped between August 1st and 6th. I got a tracking number on the last day (6th), which directed me to a third party shipping company’s site. Based on that number, I learned that the number was created on the 6th, but the box didn’t actually ship until the 9th. Sad face. Furthermore, it made it all the way to West Virginia on the 12th, when the third party site suddenly stopped tracking it and directed me to USPS, who I assumed would pick it up for the final delivery to me in PA. USPS didn’t deliver it to me until the 16th, before which there were no updates so I assume it just sat in a warehouse somewhere. Overall, it just seemed the shipping was not as smooth as I’m used to (for reference, most other boxes that I subscribe to usually reach me 4-5 days after I receive a tracking number, this one took ten days). I know it’s the first box and they’re just working out some kinks, but I was really excited (read: impatient) for this box and the wait kinda dragged a bit. TL;DR The shipping was slower than I was led to believe, but hopefully that’s a one-time thing.
Anyway, on to the unboxing!
Umai crate includes this cute zine in a manga style (read it right-to-left) that provides descriptions of everything in the box. It also gives helpful cooking instruction for all of the noodles, along with topping suggestions (in Japan, ramen noodles are usually served with lots of toppings like marinated eggs, fish cake, seaweed, ham slices, and more).
Soba is a popular noodle in Japan made partially or entirely from buckwheat flour. It has a little more bite to it than normal ramen noodles, which are made entirely from wheat flour. Yakisoba means “fried soba,” but oddly enough yakisoba don’t necessarily contain buckwheat noodles. I think these noodles are fried ramen noodles, since they didn’t have the same texture as actual soba, but I could be wrong.
Yakisoba is usually flavored with oyster sauce, but I think this brand has also added some Western ingredients like mustard and mayonnaise. Japan is quite famous for introducing variations on Western flavors into their cuisine; fried pork cutlets, “hamburg” steak patties, and curry rice are all modern staples in Japanese cuisine that developed from experimenting with Western ingredients.
This yakisoba had some pretty awesome packaging that made the cooking process a lot easier:
First you remove all of the individual little packets, and add the dried veggies to the noodles. Then you add boiling water into the tray and let it sit for three minutes. When the noodles are fully cooked, you remove the “Drain Spout” sticker, and drain out the water through the holes like below:
Then you add in the flavor packets (oyster sauce, mustard mayonnaise, and spice), and mix everything together. The spice packet isn’t actually spicy, it’s just a kind of seaweed/salt flavoring.
The final noodles were actually quite delicious. The mustard mayonnaise is really good and adds a lovely creaminess. It’s also a little sweet, as Japanese mayonnaise tends to be, which nicely offsets the salty oyster sauce. Because there isn’t really a broth, the noodles dried out pretty quickly and became a little chewier and hardier, but that didn’t affect the taste whatsoever. Overall I liked these a lot! They’re different from the typical flavors of instant noodles, and offer another perspective to Japanese cuisine that most people don’t know a lot about.
Got a little smushed in the packing/shipping process, poor guy. This seems very expensive for instant ramen! I admit, I’ve never had this kind of instant noodle, which Umai Crate describes as a “lighter, oil-based pasta.”
So again, this bowl had some pretty convenient packaging:
You’re supposed to add water to the noodles (which come pre-moistened and not fully dry like most ramen noodles do, meaning these are a little bit fresher), let them sit, and then drain by pouring the water out through the holes in the foil. Then you add all of the spices and sauce, and mix. It’s an interesting design, and probably a little safer too!
Flavor-wise, these were a little lacking. They were very fragrant, but the scent was almost like garlic that has cooked too long. The taste was subtler, but I wish there was less lemon flavor as it kind of overpowered the olive oil and red pepper, and just made the whole thing a little bit too sour. The noodles were really good though – they were perfectly al dente, and a little more Italian-style than Japanese. I don’t think I’d pay $10 for this, but I love that I got to try something totally different from what I’m used to.
Maruchan Kitsune Udon – $2.67
Subscribers received one of two variations of this ramen: kitsune udon or tanuki soba. I think these names are so cute: kitsune are clever little fox tricksters, and tanuki are cute raccoon dog tricksters believed to be lucky. Both are characters from Japanese traditional mythology.
The kitsune udon came with this beautiful piece of fried tofu (aburaage) on top:
I believe the tanuki soba came with a slice of deep-fried tempura batter instead of tofu.
I think this one might be my favorite in the box. The broth is nice and soy-sauce-salty with a great umami flavor, and the noodles were (I thought) the closest to actual udon noodles. They were still a little thinner than I’m familiar with, but they had that nice chewy texture that I associate with udon. The fried tofu had a wonderful spongey texture that soaked up the broth nicely, and it had a slightly sweet taste that contrasted really well with the salty soup. I would definitely repurchase this one!
Paldo U-Dong Noodle Soup – $1.62
Note: Japan Crate sent out an email notifying subscribers that they may receive the U-Dong flavor instead of the Kimchi flavor. I received the U-Dong flavor, but I can’t seem to find it online so the link above is to the Kimchi flavor.
Udon noodle soup is a popular Japanese dish that contains thick, chewy noodles in a (usually) seafood-flavored broth. The broth in this instant udon is meant to reflect that, along with a hint of spice. It’s prepared like a typical instant noodle, where you boil water and add the noodles and seasoning for a few minutes, then remove from heat and serve. The flavor of the broth was a subtle spicy-salty, almost like a watered-down Shin Ramyun, with a hint of seafood at the end. The noodles were typical ramen noodles, not quite thick enough to be udon, in my opinion. These didn’t come with any vegetables or toppings, which I always find a little disappointing. If I had these again I would probably add my own toppings and a little less water, to make the broth stronger.
Sapporo Ichiban Shio Ramen – $0.98
So I’ve actually had these before: my local Asian mart carries a lot of varieties of Sapporo Ichiban ramen. They’re one of the most inexpensive brands I’ve tried, but they have a lot of variety (as you’ll see below). Shio ramen is my favorite flavor of ramen broth. Umai Crate describes shio thusly: “As one of the simplest ramen styles, shio ramen uses sea salt to flavor the broth.” This instant ramen isn’t as delicate as actual shio though: it’s very salty and has an almost curry-like aftertaste. It comes with a packet of sesame seeds to sprinkle on top, but I’d say you only need about half the packet since there’s a lot. I personally prefer it without the seeds. The noodles are very typical wavy ramen noodles.
Sapporo Ichiban Tonkotsu Ramen – $1.67
Tonkotsu broth is made from pork bone, and has a lovely creamy texture. It’s one of the most popular ramen flavors, usually the default that you’ll find at any ramen shop/stall in Japan. I think this flavor is my favorite of the Sapporo Ichiban noodles. The other variations (shio and miso) are salty by nature, but this brand takes it to quite another level, so it’s almost too much even for me – and I love salt. This tonkotsu flavor is less salty than the other two (as tonkotsu should be), and has the nicest creamy taste that makes the broth a little more delicate and refined. There is quite a strong ginger aftertaste, but I’m not mad at that. I would buy this in bulk for those lazy days when I don’t feel like cooking or grocery shopping.
Sapporo Ichiban Miso Ramen – $0.92
Finally, the miso ramen! After tonkotsu, this is probably the second most popular ramen flavor. Miso soup is traditionally made from fermented soy beans, and has quite a salty taste. It’s a staple in Japanese cuisine: when I visited Japan we often had it as part of our breakfast. If you go to any Japanese restaurant here in the states, they’re likely to start your meal with a bowl of miso soup. This miso ramen had a nice level of salt: saltier than the tonkotsu flavor, but not as overwhelming as the shio flavor. Again, there were no vegetable toppings, but they did include a small “spice” packet. It wasn’t really spicy at all, but it did leave a pleasantly warm after-sensation that complemented the soup well. Umai Crate recommended adding a pat of butter, which I’ve never done before but decided to try this time. It actually added a really pleasant creaminess to the soup, and made it taste a little more like the authentic ramen we had in Tokyo. I did like this flavor, but not as much as the tonkotsu!
Bonus Item: Training Hashi – $7?
These are a pretty cute pair of training chopsticks for children. Umai Crate says that “most of the population use their chopsticks the wrong way!” I have actually heard that (and seen it in action), and I’m proud to say that I use them correctly (thanks, Mom and Dad, for being chopstick snobs and drilling it into me). My boyfriend, on the other hand, does not hold his chopsticks correctly, so I will enjoy watching him use these baby trainers hehe. I couldn’t find this exact pair online, but most of the trainers I saw ran between $5 and $10. This pair doesn’t even look Japanese actually – I think most of the writing on the back of the package is in Chinese. Regardless, it’s a cute bonus item and an appropriate pairing for a ramen box. Note: I do not know if these are dishwasher safe, but since they’re metal please don’t stick them in the microwave!
Overall, this was a decent first box from Umai Crate! I subscribed mainly because I LOVE ramen noodles, and I’m always looking for new ones to try. I was a little disappointed by the shipping issues and by the fact that they included so many of one really inexpensive brand (that I’ve already tried). But I like that I got to try a couple flavors that I had never heard of (pepperoncino spaghetti??), and a few brands that I don’t see at my local Asian grocer. If you like ramen and don’t live close to an HMart or Lotte or other Asian mart, I would recommend this one!
I calculated a value of $28.35, including the bonus item chopsticks, which is only barely over the box cost. You do have to consider that these values were gathered from bulk purchasing on Amazon though, so I’m sure purchasing individually would be more expensive. I hope that the value goes up in the future, but I understand that sometimes with niche food boxes like these you don’t always get a high value.
Purchased. Affiliate Links. All opinions are my own, and no compensation was received.