For years, snack fanatics have sought out strange kinds of KitKats, potato chips laced with unusual spices, and sodas sporting wacky flavorings. Often these items are made by outlets of popular companies in other countries. But now, instead of traveling across borders to find these rare items, they are becoming easier to find in Denver.
“The reason we started Conbini Store was a mixed bag: Most of our team grew up in Asia, and back home, we were spoiled by unique snacks and the childlike joy they bring,” said store co-owner Matt Jung. “When we moved to the States, we realized we missed the unique flavors we found at home, so this half-started as a way to temporarily satisfy our own cravings.”
Customers can find over 100 rotating products from 10 different countries, including beer potato chips from China, wasabi KitKat bars, and a Netflix and Lays collaboration of “Stranger Things” chips from Thailand. Right now the shop only does popups at the Street Food Social markets, breweries and other locations. But, said Jung, there are big plans to put in funky vending machines in RiNo come fall and a brick-and-mortar spot in the distant future.
“We are always pleasantly surprised by the amount of people who said they saw our stuff on Instagram or all over TikTok,” said Jung, who opened Conbini last spring with Thao Bui and Daniel Lee.
“One of our biggest motivators is that Denver is in the middle of the country and there isn’t a large Asian population here, and it takes a lot for Asian families to come to the middle of the county and build a business,” he added.
Asian, Eastern European Latino markets have long carried some specialty snacks like these, but Jung believes they are becoming more and more popular in mainstream American culture.
Another place to find international snacks is at It’s a Bodega, 1242 S. Broadway, where owner KC Christian sells goodies from all over the world. The inspiration to start the shop in 2019, he said, came after traveling overseas and discovering foreign snacks for the first time.
“I was blown away by the variety of flavors I never knew existed from brands I had grown up loving,” he said. “I figured I couldn’t be the only person who would enjoy these, so I brought some back home and all my friends slowly started asking to buy them off me. That is when the lightbulb went off.”
On a recent visit, this included cucumber soda (with Sailor Jupiter on the can) from Japan; Australian zebra-striped KitKat bars; and Korean sweet and spicy Cheetos. Some of the most popular items, he said, include Skittles No Shell Chewies; freeze-dried candy; Sun Chips Garlic Bread Baguettes from Korea and Canada Dry Vanilla Cream Soda.
Other items the store has carried include: black rice and ube Snickers from China; Fettucine-shaped gummies from Japan; mojito-flavored 7 Up from France; peanut flavored Cheetos from Poland; cotton candy-flavored Hershey bars from Canada; pistachio and almond Snickers from India; and seaweed Lay’s potato chips from Thailand.
“Over the last three years I have noticed that this business attracts people for numerous reasons such as giving people a chance to have the snacks they grew up on from the countries they may have moved here from,” said Christian. “I like to think ultimately these snacks give people a chance to travel the world and experience other cultures through their snacks and beverages.”
As for the traditional markets that carry snacks from other countries, here are a few suggestions.
For decades, Sakura Square’s Pacific Mercantile Company, 1925 Lawerence St., has carried a bevy of Japanese goodies such as Meiji Kinoko no Yama (a chocolate-dipped cookie that looks like a mushroom), spicy squid chips, yuzu and kiwi gummy candies, shrimp-flavored chips, and the ever popular Pocky, a cookie stick dipped in all sorts of flavorings.
On the Vietnamese side, New Saigon Bakery, 640 S. Federal Blvd., has an assortment of snacks available alongside grab-and-go savory dishes and banh mi sandwiches. Think Vietnamese meat jerky, cookies, candies, shredded coconut and sometimes pickled plums.
European Delicious Market, 10050 Ralston Road, Arvada, features a huge display of Russian candies with beautiful wrappers. But unless you make friends with the cashier and have them translate the package, it’s a gamble what you might get, from crunchy chocolates to coffee-flavored caramel. There’s also an assortment of sunflower seeds, packaged cookies and chips.
Those familiar with snack foods from African countries can find Akono ginger candy, Vitamalt Classic (a non-alcoholic chocolate malt drink), and Kingsbite chocolate bars at Nana African Market, 10223 E. Iliff Ave. At Makola African Market, 2032 Clinton St., Aurora, find jars of Senegalese fruit, Gonyek Chin Chin Dough Crunch, minty Tom Tom candy and dried caterpillar and plantain chips.
And for Latino foods, especially Mexican snacks, visit one of the many dedicated markets around town. Or, for freshly made snacks that one might find in Mexico City from a street vendor, En La Madre Mexican Snacks, 716 Peoria St., Aurora, or Ay Guey Mexican Snacks, 3947 E. 120th Ave., Thornton. Both serve items such as shaved ice sundaes, cochas, churros and candied mango.
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