A few — but not all! — of these are an acquired taste. But even for many of the Asian snacks that fall under that category, on first taste you’ll find yourself unsure if you love them or hate them but unable to stop eating them anyway. Sure, sounds like “love” to us.
And then there are all the things that aren’t acquired tastes at all and are just straight up delicious no matter what your taste buds’ tendencies.
Take, for example…
As if this even needs to be said. It feels silly even writing it down as if edamame isn’t already in that category of little snack foods where you have a whole bowl of them and then all the sudden you don’t. Because they’re gone. Because without even realizing it you have eaten them all. (See also: pistachios, olives, raspberries… we could go on.
Edamame is extremely dense in protein, iron, and electrolytes — magnesium, potassium, calcium, and, when salted, sodium, but they don’t have to be a huge source of sodium if you don’t salt them too liberally. They are also high in many other minerals and vitamins, particularly vitamins K, A, and C.
Really, edamame is kind of the perfect healthy Asian food snack. They are substantial and satisfying to bite into so you always want to eat more, their flavor isn’t overpowering so you never get tired of them, and the repeated act of shelling them can be almost meditative. Then add in that they’re super healthy, we should all be eating edamame snacks, all the time!
Baked Shrimp Chips
These are airy, crunchy, savory, just a little bit sweet somehow? They might be one of the acquired tastes we mentioned above, but they’re oddly addicting regardless.
The bright umami flavor plus the hint of sweetness and crispiness makes them just really satisfying to crunch into.
Plus, while you couldn’t exactly call them a straight up healthy snack, they are baked instead of fried so are far less fatty than many other options that would satisfy the same need for something crunchy and salty. Compared to potato chips, they are healthier — especially because, along with being baked, they are a little better source of protein than you would expect. It is not like this could be your body-building food, but one bag does have eight grams, which you’re not going to get in any other chip-like snack food, Asian or otherwise.
These kind of have a similar appeal as baked shrimp chips. They are not really the same texture, but they have that addicting pop of crunchiness. It feels like wasabi peas have become quite a popular Asian snack to munch on, and that’s a rather good start for explaining why.
Although there are lots of spicy snacks everywhere, wasabi peas also have a far different flavor to what you’ll usually encounter. It does make sense, since wasabi itself is a unique taste whose spice isn’t particularly comparable to the flavor of chilis or peppercorns. Rather, the wasabi has a more floral, fresh pepperiness.
This stinging bite combines with the crispiness of the dried peas to form a snack that, if you’re into it, you can’t put down.
These ones are something North Americans are often less familiar with. It might sound bizarre, but dried shredded squid ticks off all the boxes for what you want in a snack food (and there are many full dish recipes that include dried squid too).
These are savory, salty, and somewhat chewy, and subsequently are popular in parts of East Asia as a bar snack. As we mentioned above, there are also other recipes including dried squid, often as a side or smaller dish.
Health-wise, dried shredded squid isn’t super low in cholesterol or sodium which is something to be conscious of if those are health concerns for you, but it is very high in protein and many minerals and vitamins. As a bar snack or instead of a bag of chips, you could do a lot worse than dried squid.
Obviously there’s a theme emerging here: slightly salty Asian food snacks, much higher in good nutrients than other comparable snack foods, whose umami flavor is just inexplicably addicting. Dried seaweeds are not about to buck this theme any time soon.
Uwajimaya has all sorts of dried nori and wakame. Nori is more crispy and can satisfy that craving for something chip-like, while wakame is more like mini-seaweed noodles: more long and thin than a crispy sheet, and more substantial and chewier. We also have flavored seaweeds, like wasabi nori.
Seaweed is renowned for how nutrient-dense it is. It’s generally high in iron, iodine, fiber, many other minerals, and vitamins like C, B12, and K. In fact, iodine is so plentiful in seaweed that before the distribution of iodized salt, some of the only places where goiter did not occur in the population was in areas where seaweed was a part of the diet. Seaweed is simply tasty, satisfying, and full of nutrients.
Aaand now we get to the parts where if we actively claimed these were “healthy” you’d get to report us for violating truth-in-advertising laws.
Because obviously, Yan Yans have no claim to being healthy. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves; Yan Yan, if you’re not familiar, are skinny, slightly sweet crispy biscuit sticks with a sweet creamy dipping frosting. The main flavors are chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry, but there are a couple other rarer ones. So yeah, of course that’s not “healthy.”
But to their credit, while Yan Yan isn’t a healthy Asian food, they are nice as a sweet snack that doesn’t just sit in your stomach like a rock for an hour afterwards. They’re a nice little sweet reward versus a huge, sweet dessert that hits like a brick wall and leaves you curled up in fetal position.
Pocky are like Yan Yan, but if you’re too lazy to do the “dipping your little bread stick into the frosting” part.
If you are from the West Coast like we are, you almost certainly have been eating these for a couple of decades at least. Pocky’s pre-dipped flavors means they have more variety than Yan Yan; there are the standard chocolate and strawberry, but also hazelnut and almond crush, chocolate banana, matcha, cookies and cream, and more.
Pocky — along with Hello Panda and Kinoko No Yama, or the chocolate mushroom biscuits — kind of have a similar vibe to Yan Yan, in that these are all little snacks that will satisfy your sweet tooth but won’t just bowl you over and leave you feeling too full or saturated with sugar. They are obviously not “healthy,” but they do tend to leave you feeling better than many heavier American sweets.
Next time you’re craving something to snack on, find some nori or shrimp chips or edamame at Uwajimaya, and get some vitamins, minerals, and protein in while you’re at it!