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About Umai Crate
The Subscription Box: Umai Crate
The Cost: $30 a month + free shipping. Save with longer subscriptions.
ACTIVE DEAL: Save $3 off your first box
The Products: 8-10 Japanese-exclusive instant noodle dishes + a culinary bonus item.
Ships: Worldwide for free!
Umai Crate November 2019 Review
The Umai Crate booklet lists each of the items with a quick description, cooking instructions, and recommended add-ins. The translations aren't always accurate, but they generally get the job done. This is super helpful to review before you get started and while you're tasting everything. There is also a recipe card for harusame harumaki this month.
If you're down for some sodium-rich content, grab a glass of water and let's get into it.
Sunaoshi Spicy! Ramen
I've been previously intimidated by the aggressive design and threatening heat of these noodles before, as I've encountered them in another delivery. Last time, I topped 'em with half of a soft-boiled egg and some cheese to mitigate the spiciness, and they wound up not being all that hot in the end. This time, knowing what I know, I enjoyed them as-is and found them to have a mouth-numbing quality I didn't care for, but didn't find entirely impossible to eat. A repeat item isn't terribly uncommon for Umai Crate, as long-time subscribers will know.
Maruuma Yuzu Somen
Speaking of repeat items, here's another one! I thought this was an interesting inclusion for a fall box; the last time this somen showed up was in a different box to highlight the warm-weather quality its hint of yuzu reflects. There wasn't much of a theme for this month, other than "greatest hits", or remaining inventory. Anyway, these had a splash of citrusy goodness in addition to a savory base, chewy noodles, bits of egg, green onions, and little pink fish cakes shaped like blossoms.
Japanese Style Butter Soy Sauce Spaghetti
Now we're finally getting somewhere! I was intrigued by this inclusion; it recommended stir-frying bacon, mushrooms, spinach, and onion to enjoy alongside the flavor combination of soy sauce and butter. This spaghetti didn't seem like something I could get away with eating sans add-ins, so I made the effort to play along with the info booklet. As you can see, I included everything recommended. It was easy enough to throw together; I cooked up the veggies in one pan and the bacon in another. To the veggie pan, I added the noodles (pulling them apart with my hands to get them loosened from their vacuum-seal-pouch shape), poured in the sauce, threw in a little bit of water, and stir-fried it to my liking. To be honest, I was underwhelmed by the sauce; it didn't taste like much, so I'm glad I opted for the vegetables and bacon. It was still a decent lunch.
Okayu Kitchen Sea Lettuce and Clam
The name of this porridge turned me off pretty quickly—sea lettuce and clams don't rank high on my list of favorite foods. In fact, clams don't really rank at all. I can tolerate some sea lettuce. After several years of traveling between Asia and the States, I'm surprised I've never had a proper rice porridge. Though I wouldn't consider this proper by any stretch, it still proved itself a worthwhile experience, even though I didn't care for the taste. It was powerfully salty, which is quite the acclaim for this box, and had a strong seafood presence. I thought the rice would have sopped up more of the soup to form an oatmeal-like texture, but the consistency was more gelatinous than anything. This wasn't a top choice of mine for the month, but I can certainly see how it would appeal to a different palate.
Offering two servings, this ramen touts itself as "super healthy" due to its ingredients free of animal products, MSG, food dyes, and preservatives. Cool. However, the packaging threw me off with its claims of no garlic or onion, either. What's a life without those two things? I eat a lot of garlic and onions, so I wasn't sure how well these noodles would hold up. To my delight, they were incredibly umami thanks to the soup blend of miso, soy sauce, and sesame seeds. I should have cooked them with more water to cut down on the saltiness of the miso, but that's a lesson to apply to the next batch—along with some veggies and protein!
Seafood Vermicelli Noodles
I only ever cook seafood at home through meal kits, so I was originally at a bit of a loss over what to do with this seafood vermicelli. Flavored with oyster and garlic, this pack is ready for seafood additions to become a filling meal for 2-3 people. I opted to load this up with vegetables instead, namely mushrooms, sweet onion, carrots, and spinach. The directions in the info booklet were far from helpful, so I resorted to using the camera translator function of Google Translate on the packaging. That's also not the most reliable tool, but it gets the job done. I cooked my veggies on medium-high heat for 8 minutes, added the glass noodles with just enough water to cover everything, let everything simmer for 6 minutes, then stirred in the sauce. Voila, an easy meal for one! The sauce was really deep and complex—the camera translator listed "XO" as an ingredient, and with an item like that, you know it'll be good, or interesting at the very least. I wound up being really pleased with this, especially with a soft boiled egg on the side with some seaweed-coated sesame seeds!
Umakaro Seafood Shrimp Ramen
Another repeat! I received these back in December of last year (how did I even remember that?) and the packaging got a bit of a makeover this time around. Just as I remember, this bowl was light, savory, and a little bit shrimpy. These noodles also come with some little shrimp bits to mix in, which sounds great, but they're mostly shell and kind of sharp.
Bonus Item: Plum Topping
Oh, plum topping. I discovered I'm not a huge fan of Japanese sour plum flavor after shoveling a pickled plum onigiri into my mouth while taking the train from Tokyo to Kyoto last year, but I forged ahead and finished it anyway. This paste was salty and sour at the same time, culminating in a taste I could easily live without. It's still not my thing, so I'll be passing it on to a pal with an adventurous palate (and a particular penchant for all things sour)!
Verdict: This month’s Umai Crate was a little bit of a letdown, but that's largely due to my personal taste. I usually fare much better in terms of item diversity and enjoyment, but there weren't any real hits in this batch aside from the samurai ramen, not to mention lots of repeats. With this subscription, I've come to learn that not every month will be a home run, and that's all right. An average cost of $3.75 per item might seem steep for instant noodles, but considering the uniqueness, exclusivity, and some items containing multiple servings, I think the value is definitely there, even if I wasn't wowed by November's offerings. We'll see what happens next month!
To Wrap Up:
Can I still get this box if I sign up today? No, you will receive the December box. Japan Crate will oftentimes add items from previous boxes to their online store, so if any of these really jump out at you, check there if you'd like to make any individual purchases.
ACTIVE DEAL: Save $3 off your first box
Value Breakdown: This box is $30 a month with free shipping. I received six noodle packages, a container of rice porridge, and a tube of plum topping, which come to an average of $3.75 per item.
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What was your favorite bowl from the November Umai Crate? Do you have any go-to add-ins for instant noodles?