With more circumstance than pomp that Olympic Games in Tokyo started on Friday with a weakened one Opening ceremonies that tried to set the mood for the games. And in a way it has. A smaller parade of nations marched in front of empty stands, and a minute of silence paid tribute to the lost of the past year (if not the full reality of the ongoing pandemic). The bumpy road to Tokyo 2020 has exposed longstanding problems with the Olympics that are often lost in the stories of athletic skill. For every athlete who beats the odds of reaching the Games, there is another whose body has been monitored or denied access and support to rely on for competition. For every glitzy new stadium there are throngs of residents displaced by the necessary expansion of the host city.
My father ran athletics in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, so I learned to love the mythology of the games before learning almost anything else. Even if I propagate this year’s Olympics with less awe, I cannot help but admire the lifelong path that athletes take to the Games: Years of training and sacrifice for a single moment in front of an audience from all over the world.
But this year in Tokyo the stands are mostly empty and I’m looking for another way to support these great competitors. As the author of a Snacks-focused newsletter, I logically turned to Snacks for the answer. Snacking is a fitting tribute to Tokyo, the capital of a nation whose own snack culture is all-encompassing. Picking just one Janese snack is as overwhelming as deciphering the NBC Olympics schedule. I think the best approach is to try as many as possible. Then here are a handful of my favorite snack standouts, as well as recommended sports pairings – an appropriate way to honor the Tokyo 2020 athletes.
Combine it with trampoline gymnastics
If gummy candies ever surprise you, it’s usually taste, not texture. These squares combine fluffy opaque rubber with smaller, flavorful translucent pieces. The white peach variety is fragrant and slightly floral, without changing into sweetish sweetness. The bouncy taste makes your taste buds fly almost as high as the gymnasts lining up the combinations in the air.
In pairs with individual training
Janese Kit Kats innovation knows no bounds, with flavors inspired by local Janese ingredients like sake, adzuki beans and even the matcha flavor that used to be rare but is now in Asian markets in the US and even the US find some grocery stores international aisle. This is the first Kit Kat to use whole wheat flour to give the waffles a unique texture. And just like the incredibly chic dressage horses, whole grain products like oats are good for your body (even if they’re in a candy bar).
Combine with surf shortboard
The heart of Jan’s snack culture are Konbini, convenience stores like Lawson and 7/11. Built to serve customers on the go, the packaging of the products they carry often reflects that hectic energy. Coolish shakes are packaged in a pouch that softens in your hands to achieve the ideal creamy consistency, with no cups or straws. The flavors range from classics like vanilla and Belgian chocolate to melon and soda float. These can be hard to find in the States, but Klondike just launched bag shakes that try to recreate the same experience. Because if you can dash into the terrifying abysses of the ocean with just a wetsuit and surfboard, you don’t need a bowl or spoon for your frozen delicacies.
Combine it with the skateboarding park
If you’re already a fan of Ramune lemonades – the ones in a glass bottle that is sealed with a fancy marble – this candy of the same name is for you. These are small candies made from pressed sugar that are similar in texture to Smarties (the American non-chocolate) or Sweetarts, with a fizzy bite. Though they taste delicious, an energy drink candy with no actual energy feels pretty much like the boost behind the Olympic debut of skateboarding in a country that largely advises against skateboarding in public space.
Combine bouldering with sport climbing
The Black Thunder Bar began life as the outsider of a small pastry shop and grew in popularity, becoming one of Jan’s most famous chocolate bars. Its rise to fame has a reason: it is very good. Puffed rice and biscuit crumbs combine with chocolate in a bar in which no bite is the same, but every bite is a pleasure. This special edition uses cultured butter to create a salty-sweet nod to the strongly French-inspired Janese pastry culture. If I had to climb a mountain without ropes, I hope the uneven terrain would be a combination of cookie crumbs and puffed rice because I’m not that dizzying.
Couple with canoe slalom
It may seem like an exaggeration to make a potato-themed potato chip, but these require a lot less effort than real Hasselback potatoes with just as much flavor (although it looks more like an accordion than an intricately sliced potato). The chip is precision engineered to deliver flavor in record time, like a canoe snaking through the slalom gates.
Combine single sabers with fencing
Lemon with salt is a popular summer flavor in January, and you’ll find it comes in both sweet and savory flavors. Pretz are Pocky’s hearty cousin, and the simple, thin sticks contain more flavor than the tiny size suggests. Grab one and shout „En garde!” while challenging another snacker to a fight.
Calbee Grill-A-Corn Mala Spice
Combine sprint with bike course
If you took the cheesy powder out of Cheetos and used their unbeatable crispness as a canvas for other flavors, you’d have the Calbee Grill-A-Corn line. Mala seasoning is a standout aroma because it has a warm, slowly building up heat that seems negligible until you accidentally eat a whole bag and your mouth burns. The crunch works like a bike that gets going on the track: you can’t stop it.
Pair with 4×100 track relay
Tiny rice crackers that resemble persimmon seeds give this snack its name, and unsalted peanuts are its complement. It’s a simple snack with a small price and a big payout. You could eat them all day. They are so iconic that Starbucks is one Frpuccino special edition to showcase their fame. The individual components appear to be similar, but like the individual runners in each leg of a relay, they each have different roles and skills that make this snack a winner.
Boss Coffee Rainbow Mountain Mix
Combine with rugby sevens
The time difference between Jan and the United States means that some of the most popular events air during hours that are not conducive to sleep. This coffee can, which is on standby in the machine in January, is a good choice for a quick energy boost. You can drink it cold or warm it up by placing the can in a small heat-resistant container and pouring hot water until it is mostly submerged. It’s powerful and versatile, like a rugby team chasing a try.
Couple with boxes
Calpis (or Calpico) concentrate is my secret wine for making non-alcoholic and flavored drinks at home. It’s a sweet fermented yogurt drink syrup similar to Yakult that tastes amazing when mixed with seltzer or fruit juice and soju. It’s available in limited fruit flavors like size and orange, but the original will always have a place in my heart because of its versatility. It’s an absolute knockout no matter how you drink it.
Couple with 3m diving board diving
There are no ples in this cider. Drinking Mitsuya feels like chugging ginger ale at 10,000 feet on a plane, and the taste is somewhere between a lemonade sprite and a citrus-flavored seltzer. It’s refreshing without being too heavy, and once you’ve tried it you’ll want to have access to it every day. Like a good dive, it doesn’t make much of a splash, but that reluctance is the real skill.
Couple with Modern Pentathalon
The name might make you pause for a moment, but Pocari Sweat is a no-frills sports drink. The mild grefruit flavor has a touch of salt and is formulated to match the electrolyte loss that, as the name suggests, is lost when you sweat. I can’t guarantee the effectiveness of this claim, but I can say that Pocari Sweat is what you’d want to drink on a damp summer day when a Gatorade is too sugary. Or when you compete in a sport that combines all of the athletic abilities known to man.
Folu Akinkuotu is a home cook and author of Not crackable, a weekly newsletter about the fame and agony of inaccessible international goodies. You find them on Instagram and Twitter in search of the golden ratio of selfies to snacks.