As a part-Okinawan child growing up in South Carolina, it was hard to know my heritage when surrounded by churches and Chick-fil-As. So, every Saturday, my parents and I ate lunch at a Japanese restaurant, often followed by a trip to a two-room Japanese market nestled in the woods off the highway. My family all got something out of this; my dad picked up his favorite rice crackers with wasabi peas, my mom got mochi cakes, and I loaded the cart with chewy botan candies wrapped in edible rice paper, tiny boxes of fruit-flavored gum balls, juicy jelly cups, and more. I loved that magical little market. While daily life seemed to tell me that I was weird and different from my friends and everyone around me, those snacks showed me how special my identity was.
In college, I took Japanese for a year, and at the end, my class traveled to Japan. There, the market aisles of my childhood exploded into a Willy Wonka-esque fever dream. There were shops and supermarkets everywhere, not to mention vending machines filled with treats and drinks that looked and tasted like nothing I’d had before. Lavender ice cream, fizzy peach soda, ramen-flavored crackers, and many more tasty, textured snacks I can’t even describe because I’m not sure what they were. It was delightful, but then I flew back to the States, and that was that.
Until last year, that is, when I was sent a package from Bokksu, a Japanese snack subscription service. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but was delighted to find the box stuffed with goodies. The company thoughtfully included a pamphlet that explained the snacks, which was helpful since the names printed on their kawaii (cute), cartoon-illustrated wrappers were, of course, written totally in Japanese. The snacks ranged from savory (tiny pickled plum-flavored potato sticks, crunchy edamame crackers, roasted sesame-seed rounds) to sweet (a pear and cheese biscuit, handmade yuzu sake hard candies, freeze-dried strawberries filled with chocolate, matcha chocolate stick cakes, and more). There was even a genmaicha brown rice green tea.
Unlike a lot of similar subscription snack services which send snacks (like Pocky, say) that you can find in most Asian markets in the United States, Bokksu boxes are filled with curated snacks and tea pairings sourced directly from local snack makers in Japan.
The founder, Danny Taing, studied Japanese in Japan and fell in love with the country’s oishii (delicious) foods, as I did. Working with artisans, his company only selects gourmet goodies that are the hardest to find outside Japan—i.e., when my mom tried to buy a candy from the box that she liked online, she couldn’t find it. Bokksu has a solution for that, too. You can subscribe to a monthly box of surprise snacks, buy a one-off for yourself or as a gift (for Lunar New Year, maybe?), or you can shop for the individual items from their boxes on the Bokksu Market. This is great in case you fall in love with anything (which you very well may).
My favorite aspect of the box was that there were a few samples of each of the 15 snacks, leaving enough for me to send my parents, too. We were able to share them together over Zoom, reminding me of the Saturdays of my childhood, an experience that was especially meaningful in a time when we are far apart. We’ve always talked about traveling to Japan as a family, and though we can’t right now, Bokksu’s snacks were a whimsical, worthy substitute in the meantime.