A Beginner's Guide to the World of Dagashi: Affordable Classic Japanese Snacks and Candies
Dagashi are traditional Japanese snacks and candies that are very popular with children for their fun packaging and very affordable prices. These snacks were the most popular just after World War II. Although their popularity has decreased with the availability of modern products, they are still seen in dagashi specialty shops or even in convenience stores and supermarkets. Their unique, retro designs and extremely low prices make them great souvenirs. This time, we tried out some of the most popular ones to help you choose which ones to try for yourself!
Jul 11 2019 (Sep 09 2020)
Baby Star Ramen
If you like crispy, hard noodles or you sometimes get the urge to snack on dried ramen noodles, you'll love this one. It's a little hard to eat since the pieces are a bit small, so you have to cup them in your hands or use a spoon. But its really rich and savory, with a delicious chicken flavor. One mouthful won't be enough to satisfy you, and before you know it, you'll have finished off the whole bag! You can even buy these in bigger bags if you look around some supermarkets.
Ever had tonkatsu or katsudon before? Then you probably know what "katsu" is! For those of you who don't know, katsu refers to deep-fried meat (usually beef or pork) cutlets. This is a easy-to-eat and quick-grab version of this popular Japanese dish!
Some people may be wary of a fried food that's been turned into a snack. One of our tasters adored this snack, though! It's essentially a long strip of savory goodness, covered in what appears to be fried bread crumbs. It also has the distinct taste of tonkatsu sauce on it, so it's pretty flavorsome. It's a little greasy, but give it a taste if you're willing to try something a bit different from your usual snack fare.
It's hard to really tell what this snack would be by just looking at the package. Since there's "mochi" in the name and a picture of people making mochi (called "mochitsuki" in Japanese), we assumed it might be something along those lines. When we opened it up, we were surprised to see little bite-sized pieces of senbei (rice crackers)! The taste was on the blander side, and we think it could have used some extra seasoning, but one of our tasters preferred it like this.
We're going to be bold and say that there's no Japanese person out there that doesn't feel a sense of nostalgia from seeing an umaibo! You can find these practically everywhere, and they're super, super cheap at just 10 yen each! You can even find them in bulk in a lot of stores. They have a light yet crunchy texture. The name literally means "delicious stick," and we think they achieved just that!
There are a lot of different flavors out there, but we tried three: mentaiko (pollock roe), corn potage, and cheese. Mentaiko tasted a little salty with a tiny kick of spice, and corn potage tasted just like creamy corn soup. Cheese had a mild flavor that we thought was difficult to distinguish as "cheese." All of us thought mentaiko and corn potage stood out as strong contenders for the best flavor out of the batch.
Overall, they were really tasty and light, and we could've probably gone for more if we had any left over. One of our tasters never had these before, and she claims that these were the best of the whole dagashi batch!
When unagi (Japanese eel) is slathered in a soy sauce mixture and cooked, it's referred to as "kabayaki." It's salty and extremely rich in flavor, and super delicious with rice! This snack replicates that taste quite well. It's shaped like a flat rectangle and made out of fish mixed with squid flavoring. The texture is a bit hard, and it's really sticky from the sauce.
We really liked this one since it was so flavorsome, but we can see that it might put some people off due to the interesting flavor combinations. Rather than bite into it, it's better to rip it in strips. Apparently there are some people who heat it up in a toaster, eat it over rice or bread, or even have them extra cold in the freezer!
Carrot Pop Rice
This one is by far one of the more unique looking snacks! We weren't sure what to expect since the whole thing was covered in orange-red plastic, but if you open it up, it actually looks fairly normal! This snack just consists of small white rice puffs with a subtly sweet flavor, and we thought they tasted pretty good! The closest thing we can describe it as is a type of cereal, like the American cereal Pops.
Open the bag up and you'll be greeted with little ball-shaped snacks that look exactly like the image on the package! They were slightly salty and jam-packed with flavor. We thought they tasted like takoyaki (ball-shaped dough with octopus inside), and it had the strong, distinct flavor of benishoga (red pickled ginger). One person even thought there was almost too much flavor! They're actually a bit flaky, so small bits might fall when you bite into them, but they're really easy to eat since they're bite-sized! They're made with corn and have a really satisfying crunch.
Choco Bat Ace
This snack was made to look like a big chocolate bat. It was thicker than we initially expected, and the chocolate was layered on really thick, so it melted a bit on our fingers when we tried to break it apart. We thought it would be crispy on the inside, but it was actually a bit bready and you end up chewing more than you expect. There isn't too much flavor in this one and it could be sweeter, but it might be good for those who like bitter chocolate!
Morinaga is another really big name in the chocolate scene here, and you'll see it on a lot of chocolates in Japan. These boxes are super cute! We got three flavors: strawberry, caramel, and peanut. Notice how the little bird mascot (named "Kyoro-chan") on the box is "wearing" these flavors?
The chocolates come in slightly large ball shapes that are fun to eat. When you pop the chocolates into your mouth, you'll first taste pure chocolate, but later as it melts, you'll get a taste of the actual flavor inside.
The peanut flavor was super tasty, and the strawberry flavor was quite delicious as well. Caramel was very chewy... perhaps a bit too much for our preferences. If we had to order it from best to worst, we'd say peanut was our favorite, with strawberry coming close in second, and caramel bringing it in at third.
Another chocolate product from Meiji. The packaging is really convenient, making it easy to pour the chocolates out and close it right after. Flavor-wise, we felt it was a little lacking since it had a mild chocolate taste. The coating on the beads make it so they don't melt when you pour them into your hands, though!
A classic in the Japanese chocolate world. If you're familiar with Japanese snacks, you've probably seen the name of this company - Meiji - before! The packaging is really bright and cute, and you'll be able to find these chocolates in a lot of different stores all over Japan.
You can probably tell just from looking at the packaging, but they're strawberry flavored and have an adorable mountain peak-like shape. They're not overly sweet, so we really enjoyed them! Our tip is not to munch on them - let them melt in your mouth instead!
This is your standard fruit-flavored gum. The boxes are very small, possibly only a little bit bigger than a coin. The gum is ball-shaped, and there are only 4 pieces in each box (10 yen per box), so you'll finish it up really quickly. The grape and orange flavors are very solid, so it all comes down to personal preference at this point, but don't expect to be chewing them for too long, since they lose their flavor pretty quickly!
Mini Series (Mini Cola, Mini Sour, etc.)
These mini colas are really cute to look at since they're so small. They might even make good decorations for a desk! The candies inside are really small and pill-sized, somewhat like how many mints are shaped. The red one is cola-flavored, which is pretty good if you like that flavor. The blue one is soda-flavored. One of our tasters preferred the blue one, but mostly because he doesn't like cola-flavored sweets.
The candy has a soft, flaky texture when you bite into it, so don't expect them to be chewy! One thing to consider is that once you open it, you won't be able to close it up again, so you can't just save it for later.
Candy Tablets (Hi-Lemon and Yogulet)
This series is also released by Meiji. The first thing we thought was that the packaging was really cool and unique. We tried two flavors: lemon (Hi-Lemon) and yogurt (Yogulet). The name "Yogulet" seems to come from a combination of "yogurt" and "tablet," which makes sense because the candies actually are shaped like medicine tablets. They even come in a sheet where you have to pop each individual "tablet" out to eat!
All of us really liked the yogurt one. The lemon one was sweet and sour with a bitter aftertaste, which is great for those who like more tart flavors. Fun fact: On the box, it says that you'll get good luck if you find a tablet with a smiley face on it. Cross your fingers and hope for a smiley face tablet!
You can tell that the makers of Baby Star Ramen are huge fans of noodles, because they were the ones to create this snack! To be honest, we find it hard to call this a snack since it looks and tastes exactly like normal instant ramen... just mini sized.
It has four classic flavors - tonkotsu (pork), shoyu (soy sauce), curry, and tanshio (salty beef) - as well as several limited-edition and regional flavors. At 70 yen a pop, these little instant ramen cups are a great option for when you really want to eat some ramen but just can't justify eating a normal-sized cup of instant noodles!
A tray of 4 small honey glazed donuts! We were pretty excited to try this one since we were curious about how it would taste. They were a bit dry, but the level of sweetness wasn't too strong, so we could see it go down well with a cup of coffee or tea. If you're craving just a small bite of sugary bread, this might be a good one to go for. It's not greasy either, unlike what you would expect from how it looks.
This caramel candy is a classic for most Japanese people. It tastes like a delicious mix of creamy milk and caramel and isn't too sweet, so even people who normally can't stand sweet things can easily eat several of these candies. Some people even choose to use this as a substitute for more sugary things by melting them and using the syrup on ice cream and pancakes!
The packaging for this is really cool and retro. It's made to look like a cigarette box, with little chalk-like "cigarette" sticks inside. It has a strange combination of menthol and chocolate, so it wasn't one of our favorites on the list unfortunately, but looking at the box is definitely a throwback to the past!
The designs and flavors of dagashi are very nostalgic for many Japanese people, but they are still quite popular with kids to this day! Feel free to use this guide to help you find which ones to try for yourself. Of course, these are only our opinions on these traditional snacks, so be adventurous and try many different kinds of dagashi together with your family and friends!
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.