Spice it up with these Japanese snacks
Unlike in South Korea or Bhutan, winter in Okinawa doesn’t take a lot of spicy hot-pot-type dishes to get through. That may be one reason why the subtropical island didn’t offer many spicy foods in the past. As someone who loves spicy foods, I would have to use a lot of Kōrēgusu, an Awamori liquor savored with island’s hot peppers, or try level 10 at a Coco’s just to taste some serious spiciness. Recently I’ve noticed more and more spicy foods sold at local supermarkets, offering more options to hot food lovers in Okinawa.
Listed below are some of the foods I’ve tried and found tasty and interesting. Although none of them would match the burning hot flavors of “Blair's Death Sauce” or “Flamin' Hot Cheetos,” these local foods offer something hot and unique to stimulate your taste buds. I picked up these spicy Okinawan foods at a San A Convention City, but you can find them at many Okinawan grocery stores.
Spicy Mimigar Jerky
“Mimigar” or “pigs’ ear” is a signature food of Okinawa where people are said to eat everything that pigs have to offer except their bleat. Although there are several flavors available for Mimigar jerky, this spicy flavor stands out among others because its chewy texture contributes to the spicy flavor by letting the hot flavor linger longer in your mouth as you chew. This is not only a good appetizer or snack food for fun nights, but also a good source of protein.
If you love peanuts and spicy food, this Okinawan hot chili peanut cracker is a no brainer. If you love either of the two, and hate the other, this is still worth a try. That’s my take as a peanut hater. My first bite was met with the taste of peanut coated with brown sugar. But it didn’t take long before spicy shima-togarashi (island’s chili) kicked in. This interesting mixture of flavors surprised me and I was able to forget my dislike of peanuts, at least for a short while.
Shima Rayu Kaki Pea
“Kaki no Tane” or “Kaki-pea” is a popular Japanese snack, which is a pairing of sliver-shaped rice crackers and peanuts. In addition to soy sauce flavor, which is the most common seasoning for this snack, its nationwide popularity led to so many variations in flavors such as picked-plume, chocolate, mayonnaise, etc. Seasoning that with Ishigaki Island’s chili oil may not sound like a fresh idea, because the taste is very predictable. Chili oil’s spicy flavor doesn’t last very long because the snacks are hollow. But it is hot enough to offer a good flavor accent, going well with peanuts and sardines packed together.
This is another snack flavored with Ishigaki Island’s chili oil. The taste of the spicy oil remains modest with salty flavor taking the lead. I also found a bit of shrimp flavor in the mixture. Obviously, this is targeted to broad consumers rather than die-hard spicy food fans.
Shimatogarashi Ebi Sembei
From the name, you may think that this snack tastes like spicy shrimp. It is only half true. The flavor of shrimp is dominant, but other ingredients such as turmeric, brown sugar and sesame give depth and nuances to the taste. And the hot flavor of island’s chili sets the tone to let those different tastes work together. Recently, I’ve noticed this food sold at many shops and stores, probably a sign of its popularity among tourists.
Savory & Sweating
For someone, who grew up eating many mainstream spicy snacks, above mentioned foods can be called “alternative spicy snacks” as many of them are meant to achieve something different by combing spicy flavors and with Okinawan foods. For those who are in need of quick solutions to fill their thirst for hot flavors, listed below are what I think sitting on the top of my list as of now. Some of them are long-time sellers while some of them are relatively new comer. But all of them seems to me relevant to many spicy food enthusiasts. You can find these at most convenient stores. I purchased mine at Lawson and Family Mart.
Kara mucho (Spicy Mucho)
“Kara Mucho” is probably the king of spicy snacks for many Japanese. I have been enjoying this long-time seller since I was a kid. It comes in either shoestrings or potato chips. Written on each package is its catch phrase, “Why potato tastes so good if spicy?” I’ve had this food so many times, and still wonder what an answer to this question would be.
“Bokun Habanero,” or “Tyrant Habanero,” is probably the second most well-known spicy snack after “Kara Mucho.” As if to differentiate itself from the king of spicy snack, this food mostly comes in rings. Its official website says, “Although this food is targeted to all ages, little kids and those who are allergic to spicy foods need to be careful.”
Wazano Kodawari Umakara Togarashi
It may be the least spicy among the five, but this rice cracker can be the most addictive. The mixture of soy sauce, Gochujang, cooking rice wine and more contribute to its well-seasoned taste. Senbei (rice cracker) generally comes in a round shape. But for this one, each disk is cracked into uneven pieces, which allows the spicy taste permeate deep inside each piece. The “tasty and spicy” flavor can be quite gripping.
Fried hot chilies to enjoy straight forward spiciness. No sweetness, or sourness are there to console your taste buds. Moeyo Togarashi, which translates to “let the chili burn,” is completely opposite of the “tasty” rice cracker mentioned above. With one bite, you will note this is a food for a serious test, not a joke. Needless to say, the hot flavor intensifies as you bite more.
Otokogi Hot Chili Beef
On the package, this claims to be one of the hottest. I found the phrase well-deserved. On the surface, this seems to be just regular potato chips. Of course, you can see red chili powder sprinkled over, but the look presents nothing crazy. Your interpretation would stay that way until a couple of bites. Beyond that point, you might regret it if you don’t have anything to drink by your side. Although “Otokogi” means manhood in Japanese, this is a food for any spicy food lovers, whether for man or woman, who have the guts to try.