Perhaps my favorite part of traveling is the food. Scratch that. My favorite part of traveling is food. I relish the opportunity to better understand a culture through my taste buds, exploring its history through long-developed recipes, and its eccentricities through its omnipresent flavors. So the snack subscription service Universal Yums had instant allure.
Promising to allow subscribers to “snack like a local,” it offers monthly deliveries, each themed to bring you unique flavors from foreign nations.
The following review of July’s box: Taiwan.
How It Works
Rather than the blind box design so many subscription services favor, Universal Yums is pleasantly transparent, providing the nation of a given month along with images of the goodies to be included in its themed box. The only choice you need to make, once you’d decided to give it a go, is how big a box you want. Below is the short and sweet breakdowns for Yum versus Yum Yum, which mainly comes down to cost and quantity.
I got the Yum Yum box, which came packed to the brim with treats. Bonus: An accompanying booklet offers a thorough breakdown of each treat, not only explaining its distinctive traits and origins, but also giving a full list of ingredients (so those with allergies can snack safely). The descriptions are so lengthy, I considered summarizing them or cutting them out altogether. But the curious copy is just too much fun not to share. The first unexpected pleasure of Universal Yums? The booklet has as much character as the snacks it details!
Taro Mochi Cake
Official Description: From 1805 to 1945, Taiwan was occupied by the Japanese. Japan’s goal was to use Taiwan as a “model colony,” showcasing the benefits of colonial rule. Japan lost control of Taiwan after WWII but colonialization has left a big impact on the country, for better and for worse. One of the better remnants of colonial rule is Japan’s influence on Taiwanese food, illustrated well in this taro-flavored mochi cake. Mochi is a sticky, chewy Japanese treat made from glutinous rice. In this Taiwanese take of the classical Japanese dessert, they’ve wrapped the mochi in a sweet butter cake, and flavored the mochi with taro, a purple sweet potato.
Overlord review: I’ve had mochi desserts before, but never one flavored with purple potatoes. Admittedly, I was dubious. But there’s something instantly comforting about the soft texture of this little ball of rice and potato. Dusted with a powered sugar, it’s sweet and lusciously chewy. I wish I had 100 more. Working it around in my mouth was relaxing, and almost meditative. The mochi melted away into an earthy sweetness.
Oishi Chocolate Corn Roll
Official Description: The average person in Taiwan eats less than half a pound of chocolate per year…Conversely, the average American eats over 17 pounds of chocolate per year. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that this month is exceptionally light on the chocolate items. (Kristy note: CURSES!) Except for this snack. Though we’re not sure if it should be classified as chocolate. Made with soybeans, mung beans, buckwheat, peas, red beans, kidney beans, rice, and a bit of chocolate powder, you’ll understand that if we had chocolate like this in the US, we might eat less of it too.
Overlord review: Okay. I admire that Universal Yum included a treat they openly admit subscribers might not like. It shows their boxes aren’t just about safe choices; they’re about broadening your edible horizons. Confused by the ingredient list, I gave this one a sniff before biting in. And it does smell like chocolate, well specifically like hot chocolate mix. Does it taste like chocolate? Slightly. But the red bean actually makes for a great peanut buttery taste that blends nicely with chocolate powder exterior, studded with thin strips of coconut. And the crunch of the corn roll is wonderful. I would never have guessed this sweet contained a bevvy of vegetables. It’s a bit of a dry candy bar. But it’d be a perfect complement to a cup of tea or a cold glass of milk.
Koloko Basil Pea Crackers
Official Description: A snack made from peas? That’s not even close to being the weirdest thing about these crackers. They’re flavored with basil, and the herb is just as pungent in this bag of crackers as if you ate it straight off the plant. Though basil might remind you of your favorite dish from Italy, it’s commonly used throughout Asian cooking. Taiwanese recipes use basil in braised eggplant, three-cup chicken and even ice cream!
Overlord review: This copy is not kidding around! When I popped open the bag, the smell of fresh basil nearly knocked me back. Little spirals with a texture similar to Fritos, these pea crackers taste exactly like fresh basil, with a bit of pea aftertaste. They’re refreshing, and they’re crunchy! I’m actually a little distressed at how much I like these, because where the hell do I get more!?
Green Tea Choco Roll
Official Description: Green tea’s health benefits are well documented: it lowers the risk of diabetes, improves your memory, and has been linked to decreasing the risk of some cancers. The same benefits don’t likely apply to these green tea flavored cookies, but there is one undeniable benefit we’ve found: Eating these will make you happy! Wrapped in a sweet white chocolate coating that blends perfectly with the green tea filling, we have a feeling these will be the first to disappear in your box.
Overlord review: (Wrong. The first to disappear were the mochi cakes. Please send
all more immediately.) These cookies’ blend of white chocolate and green tea is pleasant with a subtle flavor and earnest sweetness. But it’s not something I’d ever hanker for again.
I Mei Red Bean Jelly
Official Description: This is a traditional Taiwanese red bean jelly, made from red bean paste, sugar and agar. What’s that last ingredient, you ask? Agar is a gelatin-type substance made from algae. So yes, you’re about to eat a jelly made with beans and algae. And hopefully you’re about to love it. Red bean is a super popular ingredient in Taiwan. In fact, it often overtakes the place of chocolate!
Overlord review: I thought because red bean ice cream tastes like peanut butter, so would this. But nope. It tastes like beans and sugar. The texture is like Jell-O meets bean dip. It’s grainy and gummy. Gross. I am mystified by this one. But hey, horizons broadened.
Prince Kimchi Noodles
Official Description: The inventor of the instant ramen noodles, Momofuku Ando, was born in Taiwan in 1910…Like most people living in Japan post-WWII, he suffered from food shortages. Momofuku found it strange that Japan’s Ministry of Health worked to absolve these issues by encouraging people to eat bread, that was supplied for free by the United States, rather than noodles, which were more familiar to the Japanese. When Momofuku inquired, the Ministry explained that noodle companies in Japan were too small and unstable and they could not rely on them for a sustainable food source. So Momofuku decided to create his own noodle company. After months of experimentation, at the age of 48, he produced a bag of instant noodles called Chikin Ramen. 13 years later, he developed his most famous product, Cup of Noodles. From there, demand exploded and Momofuku went on to live a very lucrative and long life. He died at age 96, crediting his longevity with eating Cup of Noodles every day before he died. Hey, why not see if it works? Start with these instant noodle packs, deliciously flavored with kimchi. These are meant to be eaten straight from the bag, no water needed!
Overlord Review: See what I mean about this brochure?! How could I cut all that fascinating info behind the creation of Cup of Noodles? Now, popping this little bag open, my mouth watered, the smell reminiscent of the beef-flavored Oodles of Noodles I gobbled down as a kid. They’re crunchy with a bit of spice, nothing too intense. Noodles Oodles are such a great alternative to chips, I’m bummed the box only contains two teeny bags!
Lays Stax Seaweed Chips
Official Description: In most parts of Asia, seaweed isn’t something you peel off your skin in disgust at the beach. Nope—it’s a part of their daily diet. Let us ease you into the world of seaweed in the most comfortable way possible - with a stack of Lay’s potato chips. Flavored with real bits of seaweed and special spice blend, you’ll get to merge the worlds of East (seaweed) and West (potato chips) for a delightfully delectable result.
Overlord Review: Seaweed in sushi rolls, yes. Seaweed sprinkled on top of soba noodles, sparingly. Seaweed flavored chips? I was doubtful. In fact, this was a snack I dedicatedly avoided for weeks. But when I finally bit, I discovered this is a yummy blend of East and West as promised. The buttery crispness of the chip pairs well with the seaweed and spice flavor. These would go perfectly with a sandwich and beer. But be sure to leave a bit of brew to wash away the seaweed aftertaste. It lingers.
YB Brown Sugar Milk Candy
Official Description: This sweet, milk candy perfectly encompasses “QQ,” which is a phrase used to describe a food texture that the Taiwanese love. “QQ” refers to something that is especially chewy. So enjoy the incredible “QQ” of these candies, as well as their sinfully addictive taste.
Overlord Review: The texture is like taffy, chewy and sticky. The flavor is brown sugar, a hint of caramel, a whiff of maple. It’s a lot like America’s Sugar Daddy (the candy, not the stereotype).
CCC Yogurt Candy
Official Description: Yakult is a probiotic yogurt drink that originated in Japan, but was first sold overseas in Taiwan. It’s been sold in Taiwan for over 50 years, and is ingrained in every part of the national food culture. It’s added to tea, included in most children’s school lunches, and found in almost every convenience store in the country. You’ll get a chance to try a bit of fermented milk drink in candy form, with these tiny treats.
Overlord Review: Yeaaaaah. It tastes like fermented yogurt in hard candy form. It’s sweet, sour and vaguely medicinal, like a cough drop that’s turned.
CCC Soft Pudding Candy
Official Description: Made with fresh caramel and egg whites, it tastes exactly like the egg puddings served across Taiwan’s cafes and bakeries. Pudding was first introduced to the Taiwanese by the Japanese, who in turn were introduced to pudding by way of the Spanish, who eat flan. All that to say, this is a sweet that truly transcends country borders!
Overlord review: The texture is like a cross between custard and hardened Jell-O. The caramel gives a warm sweetness, and the egg whites deliver a rich texture. It’s an unusual candy, but indulgent. I dig it.
Melon Milk Candy
Official Description: If you’re ever in Taiwan, prepare yourself for a feast of fruit when you finish your meal. Oh wait, let us clarify. Prepare yourself for a feast of unripe fruit, which is believed to be good for digestion. After a meal, the chopsticks are cleared away and fruit slices are eaten with bamboo toothpicks. If every fruit platter served could replicate the sweet, fruity flavor of these melon candies, we’d be adopting the tradition in the USA too!
Overlord Review: The texture is like super soft bubblegum, without the tendency to harden. It melts in your mouth, offering a flavor that’s definitely melon-like, but sweeter than any honeydew I’ve ever eaten.
Kuai Kuai Strawberry Milk Snack
Official Description: 7-11: to us, it’s just another convenience store. In Taiwan, it’s something entirely different. Taiwanese 7-11’s are filled to the brim with hundreds of drinks, fresh foods, ice cream…many stores even sell shirts and underpants. But just like any convenience store in the US, 7-11’s in Taiwan are the best place to find snacks. Because of their popularity, some stores even devote a whole section specifically to strawberry flavored snacks, featuring these puffed corn snacks as one of the best sellers. With a strong strawberry flavor and a sweet milk coating, after a few bites you’ll forget you’re eating Chester Cheeto’s cousin, and imagine you’re slurping a delicious strawberry milkshake.
Overlord Review: When you pop open the bag it smells like popcorn and strawberries. The texture is more like Cheez Doodles than Cheetos. The flavor delivers what the booklet promises: milky, artificial strawberriness. It’s charming and kids would surely rip through this bag like the Tazmanian Devil. But I can’t get past the feeling I should dump these in a cereal bowl and douse them in milk. Sweet chips are a bit of a mind fuck for me apparently.
Morinaga Lychee Hi-Chew
Official Description: Taiwan is known for producing some of the strangest fruit in the world due to their temperate and tropical climate. You’ve likely never tried yellow watermelon, milky pineapples, or the fragrant, floral flavor of lychee. Well, that’s about to change with these lychee Hi-Chew candies (hey, 1 of 3 isn’t bad!) Hi-Chew is a candy originally from Japan…but this Hi-Chew is made in Taiwan, and we just couldn’t resist bringing you a native Taiwanese flavor.
Overlord Review: Lychees have a flowery fruit flavor that’s popular in cocktails here in New York City. I’m a fan of the taste, but not the texture. So this Starburst-like Hi-Chew is delish and refreshing. Like the mochi, the texture is almost playful as you work it around with your tongue. It was fun!
Verdict: The Yum Yum box totally delivered on the promise of allowing me to snack like a local, in this instance a local of Taiwan. Like Try The World (my all-time favorite of this series), it gives you a fun and flavorful variety of treats that offer a taste of another nation’s culture. And while they weren’t all to my tastes, the snacks were a mix of savory and sweet, crunchy and chewy. It was a thrifty culinary adventure I could enjoy from my own home. And it was entertaining to read the brochure—stuffed with history and a bit of attitude—before diving into the bevy of Taiwanese treats. My Mister and I only got half-way through the snacks before we signed up for the next box (Brazil!). And I’m already going through my Christmas list to figure out which of my loved ones might similarly relish this easy exploration of international delights.