A snack doesn’t have to be a big deal. Japan’s got words for ‘snack’ – okashi, oyatsu, otsumami. Stuff you can eat without thinking about it too much. Perfect with that after-work beer, or if you’re doing overtime and it’s 3 more hours til dinner.
Yep, a snack’s not a big deal at all.
Unless it involves potatoes.
A chip called Calbee
Calbee is the name in potato chips and potato snacks in Japan. It doesn’t just lead the market, it crushes it with a share of over 50%. A great number, right? When things are good, sure. When things go wobbly… nope.
Back in 2017, Japan got a bit short on home-grown potatoes. Enough that Calbee had to stop selling a bunch of flavours until the crops picked back up. (When we say ‘a bunch’, we mean 33 different products.)
We remember seeing sad, empty shelves at the conbini. We read the Yahoo! Auctions pages, and sighed. It felt like a chipocalypse. Shows how much influence Calbee has over the whole potato snack scene.
The crisis is over now! – the crisps are back out in force. And most of them are still made by Calbee.
The Japan Series of crisps
One way Calbee puts out so many damn flavours is with regional/limited editions. Kanto and Kansai exclusives, seasonal tastes, and random ideas that only last a week.
All of Japan’s 47 prefectures have a crisp bag to match, as part of the ‘Love Japan’ campaign. Most were discontinued, boo. Calbee’s since re-released the more popular flavours as short-time specials. Highlights:
- Okinawa – nakamijiru (pork tripe soup)
- Hokkaido – wasabi
- Aomori – garlic
- Aichi – tebasaki
- Saga – nori
- Osaka – takoyaki
- Tokushima – fish katsu
- Wakayama – honey and plum
Gotta admit, some of those don’t sound… snack-like. But we’ve heard most of them are like eating the real thing. When a Japanese brand sets out to make something taste like something else, they go all out.
Jagabee sticks are fried slices of potato, lightly seasoned after cooking. Nice and simple, and they look pretty much like fries. All the weird-shaped and smaller sticks are taken out during production.
Standard flavours are kept simple, too: light salt, butter soy sauce, happy butter (again), grand herb salt, and ‘grand fromage’. The core Jagabee tastes have stayed popular for ages. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
And it ain’t a Japanese product without a cute mascot. Jagabee’s image character is ‘Potta’, the potato fairy. It’s searching for the legendary rainbow potato with mysterious powers. So it can turn the world green. Why the hell didn’t we think of that?
Jagarico sticks look rounded, and are sold in some more… adventurous flavours. Like salad, tarako butter, salt and sesame oil, and seaweed dashi. With the taste mixed in, instead of sprinkled on top, they’re that bit different to crunch on.
Some Jagarico flavours are also sold in an ‘L’ size cup. That’s a cool thing about Calbee – they make Jagarico/Jagabee packs to fit in cupholders. Sneak them into the cinema, snack in the car, or finally find a use for the CD slot in your computer tower.
The Jagarico mascots are a family of cartoon giraffes. There’s a family member for every flavour, from papa Jagao (salad) to Avoc, the Mexican transfer student (avocado cheese).
Potato chips made to taste like pizza. Yep, Japan is heaven. Like we said, giving one thing another flavour’s like a national pastime here. Plus, ever seen the prices of real pizza in Japan? Ouch. Potato chips cost way less.
The flavour’s changed a few times over the years – more salami chips here, less herbs there. But the important bit’s always been the cheese flakes. Cheddar, gouda, emmenthal, parmesan and camembert have all made the ingredient list at least once.
At one point, there was a ‘powerful smell’ Pizza Potato, with double flavour and added salami. That’s seriously what they called it…
Japan’s favourite snacks are all Calbee
The last time someone did a ‘stuff Japanese people love snacking on’ survey for variety TV, Calbee products were 1st and 2nd on the list. They’re kind of a big deal.
Sample what the rest of Japan’s tasting. Get Calbee snacks via DEJAPAN – Pizza Potato, Jagarico, those ebi senbei things, all the good stuff. We help you buy Japanese snacks and other cool stuff, with no service fee and international shipping.