When I first walked through the doors of Ponyo, a new market in Millbrae dedicated entirely to Asian snacks, I was drawn to all of the bright colors and cute characters emblazoned on the packaging.
The shop, which opened at the end of January, also has an assortment of pastries, cakes and cookies from Bay Area businesses like Neighbor’s Bakehouse, MackBox and batch 22 bakery, as well as coconut jellies from Southern California-based MeloMelo.
My plan was to try out 10 different items from the store, so I went for a mix of savory and sweet, recognizable and unfamiliar, crunchy and soft to try to get a satisfying cross section of the goodies on offer. But once I'd gathered them, I realized there was no way I was going to be able to eat all of these snacks on my own anytime soon, and any approach for categorizing or describing them would be based solely on my personal preferences, which felt too subjective.
So I brought them to our office, where my colleagues gamely agreed to help me sample and judge the various snacks. Of the eight snacks and two beverages from Ponyo, the favorites were the koala mango cream biscuits and the strawberry sandwich cookies, while the most controversial pick was the Karinto wheat snack. Another plus of a visit to Ponyo was that the snacks were very affordable – I paid roughly $27 for all of these.
Shirakiku Curvee Puffs
These corn puffs were crunchy, with a slightly fishy umami flavor. Similar in texture to Pirate's Booty, the puffs were a satisfying savory snack.
GGE Seaweed Flavor Wheat Crackers
These Taiwanese crunchy snacks were a combination of sweet and savory, with a strong smell and taste of seaweed. They reminded one reviewer of snacking on dry Maruchan soup packs. Ingredients included both peanut butter and shrimp powder, but neither could be tasted.
Karinto Wheat Snacks
These very sweet brown sugar wheat and sesame crackers were a controversial pick, earning reactions like "visually displeasing" and "I had to spit it out." Other comments ranged from the snack "tastes better than it looks" to "slight BBQ vibes" with a "strong taste of dark brown sugar/molasses." Made with black sugar and honey, they had a caramelized and slightly chewy outside with a crispy interior, which resulted in a slightly stale texture.
Lotte Japan Koala's March Mango Cream Biscuits
These little biscuits had a mango cream filling inside. "Kids would like these," one taster said, noting how cute the little koalas are. "Reminds me of Hello Pandas, which still reigns supreme to me," another said.
Kasugai Kiwi Gummy Candies
These Japanese chewy gummy snacks are made with kiwi fruit juice and seeds, each individually wrapped. "It's true, they are fruity and soft," says one reviewer. "A juicy center would take it up a notch.”
This red bean wheat cake earned a "sublime!" from one taster, who said the chewy mochi texture and sweet red bean flavor made for a happy belly. The red bean paste was dense, moist and mildly sweet.
Caplico Pink Strawberry Cookies
These pink strawberry wafers were covered in chocolate, and the consensus was that the chocolate flavor dominated while the strawberry flavor was more subtle. "Great movie snack or quick energy burst," one reviewer suggested.
Strawberry Cookie Sandwich
The strawberry-flavored filling packed a surprising punch between the two crunchy biscuits, yielding a hint of tartness, while the more mild flavor of the biscuits blended for a sweet and satisfying mouthfeel.
Cherry Blossom Soda
The cherry blossom soda was very sweet, with a slight cherry flavor and floral notes. It was a bit potent to drink with a meal, but it hit the spot as a dessert drink, the bubbles and the floral sweetness pairing well together.
This soda was also incredibly sweet. The sweetness blended with an artificial honeydew melon flavor that was satisfying and refreshing.
Ponyo Foods, 403 Broadway, Millbrae, 650-689-5333; Instagram: @ponyofoods.
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