Umai Crate – October 2016 Review

Umai Crate is a monthly subscription box for all kinds of instant noodles.  They provide full size packages of everything from ramen to udon to soba, and include a bonus gift with each box!  It’s a great way to try new flavors and brands, and it’s perfect for any ramen enthusiast.

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$25/month with free shipping in the US.  International shipping available.

Umai also offers 3, 6, and 12 month pre-pay subscriptions, with discounts that increase for longer subscriptions.

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Umai Crate includes a monthly “zine” that gives information on each of the noodles in the box.  The artwork in each zine is fantastic, and really makes reading it a wonderful experience.  They also provide a little ramen history, as well as a recommended recipe.  I’m so glad they switched back to the right-to-left reading style, which is more reminiscent of Japanese mangas.

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The information section is always super helpful!  They give a little background on the noodles, as well as cooking instructions.  Umai also includes a list of recommended toppings for each package, since traditional ramen usually contains lots of additions like seaweed, ham slices, or a marinated hard-boiled egg!

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Myojo Chukazanmai Canton Shoyu – $3.67

Umai Crate actually included noodles from this brand in the September box, albeit in a different flavor.  At first I was a little surprised to see a repeat so soon (it’s only their third box ever), but honestly if there was ever a brand to repeat, it’s this one.  Their noodles are not flash fried, so they maintain a more authentic ramen texture.  It’s a noticeable difference – the noodles aren’t as mushy once cooked – and it really makes them better.  The broth for this one is made from Canton style shoyu (shoyu = soy sauce), and has a strong soy sauce flavor.  The package came with two flavor packets: a powder for the broth and “liquid seasoning.”  From what I could tell, the liquid seasoning was a mix of different oils, primarily sesame oil.

Nissin Demae Ramen with Sesame Oil – $0.92

This is pretty much the OG ramen, as you’ve probably guessed by the vintage packaging.  Nissin has been making this line since 1968, and it’s instantly recognizable and comfortingly familiar to many Japanese people.  It comes with a typical ramen block, a soup powder packet, and a little packet of flavoring oil.  Very simple, none of the fancy frills that accompany a lot of ramen today.  I was worried that it would taste overwhelmingly of sesame oil, which I am not a fan of, due the name and the simplicity of the packaging (simple design = simple tastes? Not sure what I was thinking with that association lol).  But I needn’t have worried!  This was delicious, with an almost beef-stock flavor.  Umai Crate’s zine says it’s shoyu-based (soy sauce), but I didn’t taste much soy sauce flavor.  Even the sesame flavor wasn’t too distinct, but it added a nice richness to the broth that made it overall really tasty.

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Paldo Jjajang Men – $2.45

Jjajang men!  This is a popular instant noodle flavor that I remember eating when I was younger.  I haven’t had this in a while, so it was a nice nostalgic surprise.  Jjajang men is a Korean-Chinese noodle dish topped with black soybean sauce.  The sauce has a salty, nutty flavor that tastes predominantly of soy sauce.  The noodles themselves are nice and chewy – a little bit thicker than typical ramen.  The package comes with the noodle block and a packet of thick sauce, which is peppered with bits of onion and potato.  You boil the noodles, then drain out the water and mix in the sauce.  I like jjajang men a lot and it provides a different taste than the typical shio/shoyu/tonkotsu ramen flavors, as well as giving subscribers an opportunity to try noodles from other cuisines!

Sapporo Ichiban Yakisoba – $1.04

Umai Crate usually includes at least one soba/yakisoba noodle along with regular ramen and udon.  These noodles are chow mein flavored, and aren’t like the traditional soup noodles.  You boil the noodles in water, then drain the water out before adding the flavor packets.  This allows the noodles to maintain that “bite” that I associate with traditional yakisoba.  They had a slightly sweet flavor to them, which I actually enjoy as it balances out well with the salt.  They include two packets: one for the sauce, and one with seaweed powder.  I loved the inclusion of the seaweed powder!  It gave it a pleasant herbal flavor (almost like tea leaves) that paired so well with the mild sweetness of the sauce itself.

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Nissin Sho Spa Shitamachi – $5?

The entire first page of google searches for these noodles yields links related to Japan Crate, lol!  Since I couldn’t find any pricing information, this value is a total guess.

This is Umai Crate’s Staff Pick of the month!  That cover artwork of the city skyline is giving me old school Sailor Moon vibes.  The noodles themselves are pretty unique, I have to say.  Umai’s info zine says that these have a soy sauce flavor reminiscent of “downtown” and “working-class” flavors.  There’s a taste that I usually associate with soy sauce ramen (a little salty, a little umami), and this is definitely different.  It’s more true to actual soy sauce flavor.  The noodles themselves are more spaghetti noodles than ramen, and there are little bits of bok choy sprinkled throughout (although not nearly as large as the cover image haha).  I liked these – they were surprisingly filling, and a different flavor than what I’m used to.

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Sanukiya Original Udon – $2.98

 This was a BIG cup.  Subscribers could have received the original flavor like I did, or a “Katsuo” flavor that included bonito flakes.  I really wanted to love this udon, because it seems the most authentic.  The thick white udon noodles weren’t dried – instead they were sealed in a plastic packet and remained moist.  There was also a liquid soup packet and a “flake packet” included with the noodles in the bowl.  You put the unwrapped noodles into the bowl along with the soup packet, fill the container with water, and microwave for three minutes.  The flake packet gets added last for garnish.  Unfortunately, there seemed to be some kind of preservative on the noodles that added a slightly sour vinegar-y taste to them.  The noodles themselves didn’t really absorb any of the broth (probably because they weren’t really cooked in the broth, just microwaved/submerged), so the whole thing didn’t feel very cohesive.  The flake packet contained a mixture of dried leeks (or spring onions?), fish cake, and tempura bits.  The leeks didn’t get to soak up any broth since the packet was added after everything was cooked, so they stayed hard and dry, whereas the tempura bits dissolved instantly in the hot broth.  All in all, I wasn’t really a fan of this one.  If I had to make it again, I would absolutely be sure to rinse off the noodles before cooking them to get rid of the preservative taste that ended up permeating everything, and I’d add the flake packet in while microwaving.

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Green Premium Ginger Ramen – $2.66

This ramen was interesting.  The Umai Crate zine says that it has no cholesterol and no oil in the broth, so it’s a little healthier (or at least, less unhealthy) than regular ramen.  The package contains a noodle block and one soup base packet.  It looks like the noodles aren’t flash-fried (probably part of the zero oil concept), and the brand opted for the straight noodle version as opposed to the more traditional wavy noodles.  There are some brands that do non-flash-frying well (see Myojo Chukazanmai!), but unfortunately this was not one of them.  I’m not sure how they chose to preserve these noodles, but they ended up with a very strange slimy texture that made the soup very thick and the noodles very slippery.  The broth itself was a little flavorless: mostly just peppery chicken broth flavor with a kick of ginger at the end (to be clear, I’m not saying this is chicken broth, just that it has a similar taste).  I’m not a big fan of ginger, but this flavor was alright, if a bit strong.  All in all, not my favorite ramen in terms of taste and texture.

Sapporo Shoyu Mini Ramen – $1.35 (link is to a different flavor)

Look at the little baby ramen!  Umai Crate says this is a great snack, and I totally agree.  I made this one day after I came home from work, and it was really easy.  You just boil water and pour it straight into the bowl – the soup powder and extra goodies are already in there, so no separate packets to open.  There are a LOT of extras to this little bowl, too: carrots, bamboo, bok choy, scallions, and corn.  The shoyu broth gave it a nice soy sauce flavor, with an interesting kick of ginger at the end.  It wasn’t quite spicy, but it had a warmth to it that you would get from like a gingerbread cookie.  This was a nice inclusion (I didn’t know they made mini ramens!), and at 187 calories I don’t feel regret for eating instant noodles as a snack.

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Mini Ramen Bowl Gachapon – Bonus!

This month’s bonus item is a ramen keychain and I LOVE IT!  It’s so cute and realistic!  This really encapsulates two fun aspects of Japanese culture: gachapon toys and fake food.  Gachapon machines are little slot machines that spit out small toys in exchange for a few coins.  They’re everywhere in Japan, and can contain anything from tiny anime figures to Hello Kitty-themed stickers to pillboxes and chopstick holders.  Collecting gachapon toys is a big hobby for the Japanese, and you can find gachapon machines on pretty much every street corner in Tokyo.  Another fun souvenir in Japan is fake food.  If you go to any restaurant in Japan, instead of a menu outside of their shop, they will usually display plastic versions of their actual dishes in the window.  There’s a whole district in Tokyo that is famous for their plastic replicas: restaurants actually go there to commission customized versions of their food.  Because of their popularity and omnipresence, fake food has become another collectible item for the Japanese.

 

 

Overall, the value was a little lower for this box.  I found everything online for $20.07, not including the bonus item, which is less than the $25 cost.  Granted, a lot of these values come from bulk purchasing, and I’m sure if you were to purchase the noodles individually and included the bonus toy, the price would go up.  But I do think this subscription just has a low value to cost balance in general.  I was hoping to see that even out over time, but I guess instant noodles as a whole are just not very expensive; it would probably be easier for them to lower the subscription cost than to increase the box value.  I do enjoy the variety that they send each month, and I think this is a great way to try different kinds of noodles that you otherwise would never find.  There were a lot of shoyu/soy sauce based flavors this month, so hopefully next month there will be a little more variety!  The toy in this box was especially awesome, and the zine is always super informative and a great read!

 

Purchased.  All opinions are my own and no compensation was received for this review.  This post contains affiliate links.

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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