If you like Japanese snack food, you know what Pocky is. Before I made the pilgrimage to Japan I imagined it was the heart and soul of Japanese snacks. My image was that every pack of Japanese schoolgirls ate the stuff–and schoolboys ate it too because they wanted the girls to think they liked it. But while Pocky certainly is a popular Japanese snack, to date, I’ve never seen anyone but me eat it–not when there’s so many other snacks in stick form. Pocky, it turns out, is the MacDonald’s of stick snacks. It’s far from the elite of its species, yet somehow the only one to successfully gain a foothold abroad.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Pocky. I’m a strawberry man myself. I’ve no problem being seen in public with girly pink sticks in my mouth. I’m secure in my masculinity. It’s just that there’s better stuff out there.
My favorite snack is Toppo, notable because the bittersweet chocolate filling is on the inside. While the lack of bright color makes it less cute than its reversed counterpart, it tastes much better in this Japanese snack eater’s opinion. Once you go Toppo, you’ll never go back. Appearance is far less important than substance.
Then there’s the Roles Royce of Japanese stick snacks, Fran. Fran is much thicker and both filled with cream and has a thick layer outside as well. These are gourmet stick snacks and often come in some pretty artsy flavors. They come only three to a pack though, and two packs to a box, and they’re more expensive than either Pocky or Toppo. You’re paying for top quality!
Then there’s Pretz. It’s what you might imagine–a pretzel stick. It’s got a nice saltiness that I enjoy, which, if you’re a beer and pretzels person, might suit you much better than their sweet cousins. Especially because it’s hard to find pretzels in Japan. Though, since I’m used to having my stick snacks sweet, Pretz is a bit lacking flavor for me. It’s more of a drinking flavor than a snack. There are a lot of flavors though, all good.
But regarding Pocky. As you can imagine, there are more flavors in Japan than can be found abroad. For a time, I was addicted to mint Pocky. I don’t really like cake, so my first birthday party abroad–I didn’t really have any friends at that point–was me buying a bunch of sweets at the convenience store, ordering a Pizza Hut pizza, going home, gorging myself on it all, and then crying myself to sleep.
Your first birthday abroad will seriously suck unless you make some friends, quick.
But I digress.
Japanese snacks are not just Pocky. And not just stick snacks either. There’s a lot of good stuff out there. I definitely recommend trying some of those weird potato chip flavors you see–the more indulgent the better. After all, what’s better than fried chicken flavored potato chips? Not much, except maybe beer-flavored soda?