LAist's Guide To Snacking In the City: My Favorite Little Tokyo Treats
Little Tokyo's five city blocks in Downtown L.A. has origins dating back to 1885, when the first Japanese restaurant in the city opened at the intersection of 1st and Los Angeles.
Ever been in a market staring at an aisle full of colorful snacks - but have no idea what to choose since you don't speak the language? Our snacking expert, Jason Goble AKA Instagram's Super Snack Supreme, visits different neighborhoods to give us his recommendations.
Today it’s a food-fueled neighborhood, thrumming with folks munching on donburi, shabu-shabu, mochi and so much more. Since this is Snacking In The City: Little Tokyo edition, I'm heading to two markets, my favorite snack destinations.
One is Nijiya Market in Japanese Village Plaza; the other is Marukai Market, just across San Pedro Street. Both are great in their own right — Nijiya is smaller with more unusual and rare items while Marukai is larger and feels a little more like a supermarket.
I go to both regularly, both to peruse new snacks I’ve never seen before and to pick up old favorites. All highlight those crowd-pleasing aspects of Japanese cuisine: seafood, seaweed, yuzu, soy, and ume.
Here are six of my favorite snacks.
Hot Chili And Seaweed-flavored Potato Chips By Koikeya
If I were to pick only one snack to introduce someone to Japanese snacks, this would be it. Featuring the popular Karamucho cartoon character on the package, these thin and crispy potato chips are a flavor bomb of salty umaminess from the seaweed flakes, with hints of sweet and spice from the chili flavor. Don’t be intimidated by the flames on the bag — these are not spicy, more of a savory chili flavor than anything that would burn the house down. They hit every time.
Pizza Potato Chips by Calbee
Have you ever craved having real cheese on your potato chips? No, we aren’t talking about a new nacho flavor combination. In this case, it’s these addictive chips that you never knew you needed. Do they taste like real pizza? Of course not. But they have all the components you want when you’re snacking — a crispy, ridged chip, salty cheesiness, and a slightly sweet tomato sauce with just a hint of basil. After one bite, you won’t be able to put these down.
Himemaru Japanese Rice Crackers by Amenoya
This classic snack is simple, flavorful and delicious, ultra crispy and lightly glazed with a salty and slightly sweet soy-based gloss. At first glance, it looks like a smashed tater tot, and just like a tot, it's a great way to get some crispy saltiness into your life. There’s no denying its greatness once you bite into the cracker and hear its delightful crunch.
Pure Grape-Flavored Gummy Candy by Kanro
Pure is a very popular brand of gummy candies in Japan, and for a good reason: each little heart is a perfect sweet and sour drop on the tongue. The gummies themselves are flavorful and fruity, and in the Goldilocks zone of texture — not too soft, not too firm. They come in various flavors, including white peach, lemon, and lychee. My favorite? Definitely grape.
Seaweed-Flavored Ramen Cubes By GGE
These are ubiquitous snacks in Asian communities, found in Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and Filipino markets, and even recently in Ralph’s. This is the snack that I get from the market to eat in the car on the way home. (Only a few snacks get the car-ride honor, the ones I can’t wait even the the short ride home to devour.) They're a classic combination of Japanese flavors — seaweed, soy sauce, ramen — all combined in a cute, yet utilitarian cube shape, perfect for kids who enjoy eating raw ramen noodles straight from the pack! They have an entirely unique texture that's rare to find in any American snacks. And if you aren’t into seaweed, they come in a plethora of other flavors including spicy chicken, soy sauce, tempura, and BBQ.
Takoyaki Ball by Calbee
These little fried corn balls are a take on Takoyaki, the popular dish from Osaka which consists of a fried ball of batter stuffed full of octopus and aromatics, brushed with a sweet and salty sauce and then drizzled with tangy mayo and salty, fishy bonito flakes. This snack version replicates these flavors in a crispy, light corn puff. It's a flavor bomb that transports you to the middle of a night market in Osaka, enjoying a delicious bite of Takoyaki.