When it comes to foreign cuisine, no supermarket chain kills it quite like Trader Joe’s. Case in point – Trader Joe’s Seaweed Salad with spicy dressing. We’ve already looked at some of TJ’s bold, if shaky, forays into the Korean kitchen. With this fun spicy salad they can proudly boast that they’ve done something well that no one will appreciate.
Seaweed is not high on the list of most American shoppers, so hat’s off to Trader Joe’s for branching out into the exciting world of undersea vegetation. The history of seaweed cultivation and consumption is as vast and engrossing as the wide Sargasso, and I doubt I can do it justice in this forum. When confronted with a man who just ate a big bowl of limp kelp, the more pressing question of interest is “Does it taste any good?”
Yes, absolutely, this sea weed salad does – if you’re in the market for authentic Korean cuisine. If, instead, you’re looking for a nice, ordinary salad to accompany your casserole, try one of these. If, on the other hand, your on the hunt for an entirely different taste, and texture, sensation to make dinner memorable you couldn’t ask for better.
In a lot of ways Trader Joe’s Seaweed Salad is exactly what you’d expect – a big pile of wet, limp seaweed that smells more than slightly of the sea. In other ways though, this salad might surprise you.
For one, the salad is actually thrown together from a wide variety of seaweeds. Each one brings it’s own texture, color and toothfeel to the dish, seven different types of sea plants go in, from the translucent agar-agar to the bright Carrageenan Yellow.
Eating these fronds is unlike eating any other salad you’ve ever had – large, tender, sometimes slick, sometimes springy textures slide and bounce their way across the mouth with each bite. It doesn’t exactly come packing the taste – few things are as bland and mild and wet seaweed – but what it lacks in taste it makes up for in texture and appearance.
Of course, TJ’s was aware that seaweed needs some help to become tasty, and it provides that help in the form of a monstrously large packet of “salad dressing: that is, essentially, a thick, paste of red hot peppers. Again, kudos to Trader Joe’s for taking the authentically Korean route here. Many mass retailers might have tended toward a milder, more edible dressing, instead TJ’s gives you the full-on Korean restaurant experience.
This is a seriously hot condiment folks, and it’s given to you in a quantity far beyond what you’ll likely need to enjoy your salad. Try a dab of the dressing first before slathering your salad and adjust accordingly. I found about a 1/6th of the packet enough for me – but as we established before, I’m also a bit of a chili wuss.
A final note, making this salad was more fun than it should have been. The meal comes as a freeze-dried thatch that you must dump in a big bow of water and leave to quintuple in size – dinosaur sponge style. It brightened up my day, but then again I am easily amused.
Would I Recommend It: Yes, if you think you like seaweed or interesting textures. No to everyone else.
Would I Buy It Again: I could see it happening.
Final Synopsis: This is a great, exciting, interesting seaweed salad but, ultimately, a seaweed salad it remains.
Goodness, that’s a string of words you don’t often encounter in modern western society. Spicy Seaweed Ramen. A spicy ramen, made with seaweed. It’s hard to imagine that the Trader Joe’s marketers are expecting this one to find very broad-based support. It’s not exactly like suburban kids across the nation are whining to their parents about their seaweed-based Asian soups being overly mild. In any case, Trader Joe’s has thrown their hat into the ring with this new dish – and scored a solid hit.
I love ramen. I’m eating ramen right now. But ramen has something of a schizophrenic existence in America – supermarket ramen and restaurant ramen. In recent years ramen has managed to earn itself back something of the sophisticated glamor shared by it’s cousins soba and udon. But it still has to contend with its dark past – with the cups of brittle styrofoam found in supermarkets and college student cupboards everywhere, with the ubiquitous “Cup of Soup”.
For many Americans, perhaps even for you, good reader, “Cup of Soup” dehydrated ramen noodles was the first way they encountered this popular Asian dish. It certainly was for me – and I managed to eat so many between freshman and sophomore year of college that I haven’t touched another one to this day. It’s not just an American phenomenon either. Japanese supermarkets have entire aisles dedicated to variations on super cheap, dehydrated ramen bowls – some with barely redeeming qualities, some too horrible to describe. So as curious as I was about the spicy seaweed aspect of this soup, I was even more curious about the Trader Joe’s take on supermarket ramen. Would they succeed where none others have? Would they manage to introduce a tasty, ready-to-make ramen for the masses?
The first thing you’ll notice when you pick up a pack of Trader Joe’s Spicy Seaweed Ramen is that it’s no mere sachet of dry noodles. The ramen is precooked and held in al dente stasis in a plastic pouch that comes packaged with a healthy quantity of soup base, and a a small packet of crumbled seaweed. Cooking is quick and easy, a simple matter of introducing the pre-prepped noodles to boiling water for five minutes or so, followed by the addition of the rue and topping.
The soup comes off the stove top looking and smelling delicious. The spicy looking red yellow broth swims with little goblets of hot oil, and the aroma of red pepper threatens the nose with a small but waiting fire.
There’s more bark than bite to the ramen, however. The spiciness is exactly what you’d expect from a mass-market supermarket variety – a little bit hot, but sure to be palatable by all but the most milquetoast. Even I was able to slurp down the noodles, and I’m a well known chili wuss. The noodles, by the way, are tender, toothsome and tasty. I’m not sure how they do it there at Trader Joe’s, but I’m consistently satisfied by the texture of their precooked pastas (see: Minestrone, Couscous ChoppedSalad).
It’s a tight package – quick, easy to cook, tasty and unique, that leaves very little to nit pick. That said, I have spent some time roaming the Exotic Orient, and seaweed is a something I consider a tasty snack. It’s presence in this ramen dish is slight, the dark green flakes are immediately absorbed into the broth and become something more like a dusting of oyster cracker crumbs then anything else. Personally, I thought Trader Joe’s went a little too light on the seaweed – Its cheap, guys! Give us a second packet! – but it’s mild presence here is unlikely to offend the xenophobic or PB&J set.
A final quibble, the broth is fairly straight forward and uninteresting. This is surprising given the lengthy list of ingredients going into it: clams, anchovies, soybean paste, shrimp, kelp, and more. A really excellent soup tends to tease your tongue with the broth, but this ramen doesn’t manage to aspire to those lofty heights.
Would I Recommend It: I would. Get some!
Would I Buy It Again: A good, international soup at a reasonable price? Absolutely.
Final Synopsis: Well done Trader Joes. Now lets see about some new flavors.
So good, but so far from food. Eating these is like eating firecrackers – a hot, spicy pop that vanishes into empty air.
If you don’t think you’d ever eat a sheet of roast seaweed, try these. Now I, personally, love eating sheets of roast seaweed, giant unflavored sheets that I fold into my mouth like wallpaper, but I can understand that this maybe isn’t everybody’s bag. These f—ckrs are a totally different beast– tiny, bite size seaweed snackers dusted with an invisible layer of burning hot wasabi flavor. They are absolutely addictive, as soon as I got up off my ass after eating the first one I dove for another, and another, until there were no more. The wasabi practically stings when it hits your tongue, then vanishes in a flash leaving just a limp, little flap of seaweed to slide mundanely down your throat.
With a snack this original and tasty and all together rad, it’s a brutal blow to the solar plexus that they’re sold in almost infinitesimally small packets. Trader Joe’s isn’t exactly packing the value into this one either. Popping open the pack, you’ll see that it isn’t exactly packed to the gills. A judicious spacing is alotted each sheet, like a seaweed condo, so that you only get about 20 of the teensy slices. A whole serving (1/2 the pack, by the way) accounts for only 30 calories – about the nutritional content of a gumball.
It’s a shame that such an awesome product is parceled out in such scanty portions; it renders the product nearly purposeless. The flavor is too intense to sit and crunch on all day, and too airy to justify packing jut a couple with your lunch. Short of stocking up on 5 cartons at a time, the only use I can see for these is either as an unusual snack spread at a party, doomed to be gobbled up in a flash, or as a small, critical component in some sort of homemade Asian-Fusion cuisine.
Would I recommend them: To seaweed lovers and the seaweed neutral alike.
Would I buy them again: If I was holding an Asian-Fusion cuisine party.
Final Synopsis: All sizzle, no steak.