Japanese Snacks (III): Senbei
Senbei is a low-calorie and delicious rice cracker. It is one of the oldest snacks in Japan and has been enjoyed for centuries. Today, they come in many creative forms and shapes, including curry flavor and chocolate flavor! If you're looking for a delicious and crispy snack, look no further than senbei.
What is Senbei
Senbei is comprised of two parts: "sen" and "bei." "Sen" can be translated as broil, fry, bake, or simmer, while "bei" can be translated as mochi or rice cake. Traditionally, senbei is brushed with soy sauce and mirin for added flavor and is often wrapped in nori seaweed to enhance its taste and appearance. Depending on the flavor, senbei can have a slightly different taste, but overall it's a perfect combination of sweet (coated with zarame sugar) and salty (shrimp, mirin, or nori seaweed). It can be consumed in many situations and is often served with green tea. Senbei is widely available throughout Japan and is a popular snack among people of all ages.
Senbei is a type of rice cracker made from joshinko (Japanese short-grain rice flour), which is steamed, flattened, and then baked over charcoal fire or in the oven. However, there are also varieties made from wheat, fish, or shrimp. There are other types of rice crackers, such as arare and okaki. Arare is made from glutinous rice, while okaki is made from mochiko (sweet rice flour). Senbei is typically disk-shaped, while arare and okaki are bite-sized and come in various shapes.
The History of Senbei
There are several theories about the origins of senbei, with one of the most famous theories involving a woman named Aosen who flattened and baked leftover rice balls and vegetables into senbei. Classic salted senbei became popular because it could easily be made using abundant leftover rice, making it a low-class snack at first. However, people soon began adding ingredients such as soy sauce or other seasonings to enhance their flavor, leading to the creation of various types of senbei that we know today.
Another theory suggests that senbei were introduced to Japan from China during the Asuka period (538 A.D. - 710). These early senbei were considered luxury food and were served only to nobles and aristocrats. In the medieval period (1185 to 1603), senbei gained popularity among samurai warriors as a source of energy during battles. Senbei was easy to carry and could last for long periods without spoiling. During the Edo period (1603-1868), senbei became more accessible to the general public. Street vendors sold them in small shops or on carts, and people often bought them as a snack while walking around town.
Types of Senbei
Senbei comes in various types, including nori (seaweed) senbei, shoyu (soy sauce) senbei, arare (bite-sized senbei), okaki (crunchy senbei), and kaki no tane (peanut-shaped senbei), each with their unique texture, flavor, and cooking method.
Nori Senbei: Nori senbei is coated with nori (seaweed) and is a popular variation of senbei. It has a crunchy texture and a savory taste that pairs well with green tea.
Shoyu Senbei: Shoyu senbei is flavored with soy sauce and has a salty taste. It's a classic type of senbei that's available at most stores.
Kaki no Tane: Kaki no Tane is a type of senbei shaped like a peanut. It's typically eaten as a snack and often mixed with peanuts or other nuts.
Ika Senbei: Ika Senbei is a seafood-flavored senbei that features a piece of baked squid on the surface of the rice cracker.
Kuro Goma Senbei: Kuro Goma senbei is seasoned with black sesame seeds.
Togarashi: Togarashi senbei is a spicy senbei coated with red pepper flakes.