Snack Nation: Ryomaden Dodekai Ramen chips

Snack Nation: Ryomaden Dodekai Ramen chips

Japanese snacks embrace the proto-liberal values of 19th century samurai legend Ryoma Sakamoto -- in two flavors
Ryomaden Dodekai Ramen
On the left, katsuo soy sauce flavor, on the right, yuzu salt flavor. Both are seriously grown-up compared to the usual Dodekai Ramen line-up.

For the last few months, Japan has been in the midst of Ryoma-mania with the premier of NHK Taiga Drama "Ryomaden." The program about legendary 19th century samurai Ryoma Sakamoto will run until November of 2010, giving merchandisers plenty of time to cash in on this latest resurgence of interest in a hero who gave his life to move Japan into modernity.

Oyatsu Company has luckily moved Japan into a more advanced, Ryoma-friendly era with its new Ryomaden Dodekai Ramen chips. Dodekai Ramen is normally a favorite of elementary school students -- a chip that feels and looks like pressed together dried ramen. The taste is like a very, very Japanese Frito.

With the stoic visage of Ryoma Sakamoto on each bag, the treat offers more of an adult-themed pleasure than Dodekai Ramen have ever attempted before. The traditional flavor options are similarly grown up: Katsuo (skipjack tuna) Soy Sauce and Yuzu Salt. You see, Ryoma was originally from Kochi Prefecture, and so Oyatsu Company has used a portion of its katsuobushi and yuzu from Kochi -- but, sorry Kochi Prefecture, only 0.9% and 0.2%.

The Yuzu Salt edition of the chips is powdery with light citrus notes, but the normal combination of powdered oil and "seafood essence" (魚介エキス) may ultimately be the most dominating flavor. The Katsuo Soy Sauce version on the other hand, tastes and looks like the skin of strongly soy-glazed fish. We think Ryoma Sakamoto himself may have wanted to snack on something a little more 'modern.' 

Between the Ryomaden Dodekai Ramen and Georgia's Sengoku canned coffee, Japanese history will likely continue to inform the world of Japanese snacks for a few more years. Don't tell the Edo government, but we are secretly plotting a 'restoration' of the goofy snack paradigm where colorful mascots help Japan's international competitiveness. 

W. David Marx was CNNGo's initial Tokyo City Editor. His writing has also appeared in magazines such as GQ, Brutus, Weekly Diamond, and Nylon, as well as his web joural Néojaponisme.

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