• Feature

It’s Time to Try Something New Potato Chips!

  • delicious Japan
  • May 2022
  • Vol. 14
FOODEX JAPAN 2022 took place at Makuhari Messe over four days, on the 8th to 11th of March. The exhibitors were 1,313 companies, such as food and beverage manufacturers and trading companies. Of those, 594 were from overseas, from 46 countries and regions. Seven companies from Estonia exhibited for the first time. The booth that attracted the most attention among the Estonians belonged to Balsnack, which handles potato chips. We talked to Kaido Höövelson, president of Japanese corporation, who is also a former sumo wrestler (rikishi) and an active politician in Estonia. His ring name as a rikishi was Baruto Kaito.
Mr. Balto, you were famous as the former sumo wrestler Baruto Kaito. Now you’re a politician in Estonia, but what made you choose politics?

After I retired from sumo, I came back and lived in Estonia for half a year. Once I was back, I understood for the first time the differences between Japan and Estonia, of course, but also the differences between people in rural and urban parts of Estonia, in their ways of life and standards of living. It was also an opportunity to think about what it takes to make a place that’s easy to live in, and what I could do about it. I only knew the sumo world, so I got to thinking that if I started by experiencing all kinds of things, I could then enter politics as a way to achieve that goal.

So half a year after returning to Estonia, you went back to Japan?

I went back to Japan and worked as a talent for Beat Takeshi’s agency for five years. In that period, I also worked on election support activities. My work took me all over Japan, from Hokkaido to Yonaguni Island, and I was able to learn about the differences between town and country, and about what kind of country Japan is. It was a valuable learning experience.
Then I went back to Estonia. Few Estonians have lived in Japan for as long as 15 years, as I have. But whatever I tried to talk about, it didn’t communicate well to those around me. I thought that if I entered politics, I’d be able to put all kinds of things into practice. I want to apply my experience to convey to young people, and particularly young people living in rural areas, what is the most important in life and in work. As you know, Estonia is advanced in information technology. If you have the Internet, you can make a living, even if you live in the country. In that case, I think more people will choose to stay in the country, rather than moving to the city. I want to apply the experience of 15 years in Japan to serve as a bridge between the two countries.

Changing the subject a little, have you lost weight since you were a rikishi?

I lost 40kg. I lost the muscle, but the fat stayed (laughs).

Now you’re involved in the potato chip company Balsnack.

As a bridge between Japan and Estonia, I’m running around trying to introduce Estonian things and the country of Estonia. I started with Estonian fish. The potato chips from Balsnack I’m working with now are unique, with an unusual shape. There are six flavors. People of all ages can enjoy them. I’m a big fan of Japanese beer, and I love draft beer. These chips are great with beer.

What is your plan or vision for the future?

In future I think I’d like to run an izakaya bar or a ramen noodle shop. And, above all, I want to keep looking forward and working together with people to produce lasting good outcomes. I want to work together with everyone to build a magnificent bridge between Estonia and Japan. Japan has been very kind to me for 15 years. I want to do my best to return the favor. All the best!

Mai Tsunoda
Gluten-free gnocchi with blue cheese sauce
Three-flavor dips
Salmon and raw mushroom with white wine gelee sauce
Mashed salad with raw ham and pickles

At FOODEX, the cook Mai Tsunoda visited the Balsnack booth. She was charmed by the unique shape of Balsnack chips and thought of recipe ideas using them. She has developed four recipes that would go well with beer, of course, and also with wine and other drinks. Mr. Balto liked “three-flavor dips” the best. Ms. Tsunoda said “Three-flavor dips” combines three types of healthy vegetable-based dips with cheese and onion flavored snacks. Taking snacks that taste good on their own and combining them with cooked food produces a recipe for enjoying new flavors”.

When Mr. Balto was asked where that recipe would rank in the sumo banzuke ranking, he immediately answered “Makunouchi!” For reference, makunouchi is the ranking that makes up the framework for the highest level of sumo wrestling.

The potato chips distributed in Japan, where food culture is diversifying, easily number in the tens of varieties, including imported items. They are a popular snack throughout the population, and the subject of intense market competition. That’s why they have the potential to go beyond being a beer snack or a treat for the kids, to become a recipe suggestion to be served at a better class of restaurants and cafes. Dishes like the “three-flavor dips” suggested here are truly great recipes that make good use of the unique shape of Balsnack chips.

Just a snack, but a good snack. We hope adding this one more item to the shelves of Japan’s stores will make more and more of its people smile.