Umai Crate – September 2016 Review

Umai Crate is a new monthly delivery of a wide variety of instant noodles.  Each box contains 7-8 packages of different types of noodles – from ramen to soba to udon – as well as a cute bonus item.  This is their second box.

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$25/month with free shipping in the US.

Ships internationally.

Also available as 3, 6, or 12 month subscriptions with discounts for longer subscriptions.

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Umai Crate includes a “zine” with each box that describes its contents.  It gives you detailed cooking instructions for each package (since the labeling is not always in English), as well as suggestions for what kinds of toppings to add!  True to their promise last month, they have expanded their zine!  In addition to the product information, Umai has started to include fun facts about the history of instant noodles, as well as recipes for some of the items included.  There’s also some beautiful artwork from cover to cover that really makes the magazine more colorful and enjoyable.  I was a tiny bit bummed to see that they got rid of the right-to-left manga-style format from last month, and it now reads left to right.

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Itomen Sansai Soba Cup – $4.24

I like that each month Umai Crate sends us at least one non-ramen noodle.  This bowl contained soba noodles, which are made from buckwheat flour instead of traditional wheat.  This gives the noodles a bit of a bite as you’re chewing them.  The dashi broth had a light, almost-herbal fragrance to it, and was flavored with sea kelp, soy sauce, and bonito.  It was nicely salty, and because it wasn’t as umami as most other broths it was very refreshing.  In addition to the powder for the broth, the cup also contained a peppery spice blend that added some heat without crossing the border into “spicy”, and a packet of dried vegetables.  The vegetable blend is called “sansai” and is a mix of traditional Japanese mountain vegetables, including bok choy and cloud ear mushrooms.  The whole combination reminded me quite a bit of Japan’s kaiseki cuisine, which focuses on using seasonal ingredients and making their natural flavors the star of the dish.  If you’re vegetarian or prefer lighter flavors, this is a great option!

Ace Cook Super Big Ramen Shoyu Flavor – $9.43

This was a LARGE cup of ramen.  Definitely bigger than your usual cup.  It came with two packets: one had a mixture of seasoning powder and toppings, including corn, scallions, and naruto (fish cake slices with a pink swirl); the other packet contained “seasoning oil,” which upon smelling I believe was just sesame oil.  Once cooked, the noodles were soft and chewy, and soaked up the soy sauce-flavored broth very nicely.  The sesame oil taste was a little strong – I probably didn’t need the entire package.  The broth was delicious but a little too salty on its own.  I thought the sweet kernels of corn were the perfect addition, though – I love when ramen comes with extra goodies.  I liked this one, but I do think for the price I would have expected something a little more unique.

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Myojo Chukazanmai Ramen – $2.33

So when I first cooked and tried these, my immediate thought was, These are some really authentic ramen noodles.  I couldn’t put my finger on it until I read the zine and found out these noodles aren’t flash fried!  Flash frying gives ramen noodles that crunchy, stiff texture, so when they’re boiled they end up kind of soft and mushy.  These noodles are a little more bendy when dry, and have a little more bite to them when cooked.  They really reminded me of the fresh ramen noodles I had in Japan – they just might be the most authentic instant noodles I’ve had.  I didn’t realize flash frying made such a huge difference!  The broth was soy sauce flavored, and it was pleasantly salty and super flavorful.  This didn’t come with veggies unfortunately, but there was a powder soup base packet and a “liquid seasoning” paste/oil packet.  The double flavoring added a great depth to the broth that featured the soy sauce without making it feel too one-note.

Kirin Ramen Shio Flavor – $3?

I couldn’t find an actual value for this ramen, so I gave it my best guess.  These noodles have a cute, “retro-style packaging” and are salt flavored.  I like these much better than last month’s shio ramen (no strange curry taste), although the flavor is a lot subtler.  Some people might say they’re a little bland, but I think shio is supposed to be more delicate so I enjoyed them.  My only complaint is that there was a semi-strong sesame aftertaste, which I’m not a huge fan of.

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Paldo Teum Sae Ramyun – $1.73

These noodles are spicy!  The information zine says that Teum Sae is a restaurant in Seoul that is popular with Japanese tourists, combining the spiciness of Korean cuisine with high quality ramen.  This brand is featured on several food blogs as being the spiciest ramen ever, but while I do think these were hot they definitely did not live up to that title.  They were spicier than Shin Ramyun for sure, but not as spicy as some other brands I’ve had (I’m looking at you, Samyang Ramen).  I like spice though, and I think anyone who enjoys heat with their ramen will like these.

Paldo Gomtang Noodles – $1.50

The zine says that this gomtang broth is made with “simmering ox tail and brisket,” and it did have a nice umami flavor to it.  It’s a creamy, white broth that reminds me of a mix between the creaminess of tonkatsu and the saltiness of shio.  The noodles were thinner and less chewy than the other ramen packages, but that wasn’t a bad thing.  If you’re looking for a creamy, nonspicy ramen, this is a great way to go!

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Orchids Shirataki Noodles – $1.38

Shirataki is a special type of noodle that is made from yam jelly.  The word “shirataki” means “white waterfall” – isn’t that beautiful?  These noodles came packaged in a liquid to maintain their jelly-ness, although both Umai and Wikipedia recommend rinsing that off so it won’t affect your food flavor.  The Umai zine says that these noodles are great for sukiyaki and hotpot (traditional Asian dishes where you cook a variety of meats and veggies tableside in a giant simmering pot of broth), and even includes a recipe for traditional nabemono (a type of Japanese hotpot).  My family and I love doing hotpot together in the winter, so I think I will save this package for the next time I visit, and share something new with them!

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Wooden Ramen Spoon – $6?

I thought this was a really cute addition to the box!  In most Japanese restaurants, ramen is served with a large wooden spoon that you use to sip the broth at the end.  It’s also handy for eating the traditional marinated egg, which can be tricky with chopsticks alone.  Most people say that enjoying ramen is a balance between eating the noodles with the chopsticks and sipping the broth with the spoon, but I personally prefer to eat all of my noodles at once and drink the broth on its own at the end.  Consume in whatever manner brings you the most pleasure, just be sure to slurp extra loudly! ;)

 

Overall

I liked the curation of this box much more than that of the first box.  There were fewer “filler ramens” (i.e. common Asian-mart ramens that have low value), and everything in here was new to me save for the Gomtang noodles, which I had tried before. The inclusion of the shirataki noodles showed a lot of consideration: they were definitely unusual and would require much more prep work than instant ramen, but it was a little bit of traditional Japanese culture that I normally wouldn’t pick up on my own. I would like to see more spicy noodles in future boxes though!  But I know that that’s risky for Umai because not everyone likes spicy foods.

I calculated a value of $29.61 for this crate, which covers the cost of the box for US subscribers.  I would like to see a higher value overall, especially since the almost-ten-dollar price point of one of the packages seems inflated.  However, I do think that these noodles are harder to find, and you would only be able to buy them in bulk, not individually, at these prices.  In general, if you love instant noodles and don’t have a nearby Asian mart where you can get them, check this subscription out!

 

Purchased.  All opinions are my own and I received no compensation for this review.

Vicki

I'm a researcher for a pharmaceutical company in Maryland. Most of my money goes toward spoiling my cat. The rest of it goes to subscription boxes.
Vicki

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2 Comments
    1. I agree! I love instant noodles and I’m lucky that my local Asian grocery store carries a good variety, but since I don’t read Japanese or Korean I never know what to pick and always end up getting the same thing over and over again. It’s nice that Umai curates the box for me and pushes me out of my comfort zone so I can try new stuff.

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