Friday, November 2, 2012

Will Miss #1 (reflection) - sembei varieties

It rather goes without saying that people won't be making fresh sembei hot on a charcoal grill for me now that I'm back in the U.S. This fellow was making them in Kamakura when I visited there. Warm sembei, freshly brushed with sauce, is a unique pleasure. 

In my very first "will miss" post, I said that I would miss the wide variety of sembei (rice crackers) in Japan. Now that I've been back for nearly 7 months, I can say that this is absolutely true. It's not that you can't get varieties of rice crackers in the U.S. because you can, but the ones that are made for the domestic market comparatively fail in comparison to their Japanese brothers.

My first experience with American-marketed rice crackers was pleasant enough, but for some reason they seem designed for anemic palates. They lack a strong crispiness and have the sense of being slightly stale and lacking in bold flavors, and absolutely lacking in variety. They do tend to be less fatty, but this is likely where they are failing as they probably are not lavishly coated with enough of the good stuff to give them the proper texture, or, simply not fried as some Japanese crackers are.

The strangest thing about the way rice crackers are offered here is that they are so relatively bland. For a country which loves it some flavor blasting and produces sweets that are so shockingly sweet in many cases that all other flavors are knocked out of the park, why are the rice crackers so limp and lifeless? I guess that anything which is "Asian" is seen as being demure, polite, and unassuming. It won't reach out and grab your tongue, but graciously walk up, bow, and then apologetically alight on your taste buds. The crackers made for the Japanese market know how to waltz up and take your taste buds for a ride,  not to mention give you a light crispy texture that leaves you wanting more. Though the Japanese prefer subtle flavors bordering on bland in their cuisine, that is not so when it comes to anything that might be consumed as a side snack for drinks, especially alcoholic ones.

I've found imported sembei in a few shops, but the prices tend to be on the ridiculous side, often double what I paid in Japan. While I do love me some flavorful sembei, I'm not quite prepared to pay $4 for a bag that once cost me a little over $2. I definitely miss the rich variety of well-made and tasty sembei that I had access to in Japan.


  1. One of the hardest parts of moving back home is paying a huge markup for what used to be quite cheap stuff. I console myself with the fact that several staples, most particularly steaks, are substantially cheaper.

  2. The cost of specialty snacks here in the states is terrible. Last week I had the opportunity to have mochi ice cream treats that were not the typical freezer burned ones you get in the asian freezer section. They were $2.50 EACH! We splurged on 2 and shared them both because they offered more flavors and no freezer burn. I count my lucky stars I don't have kids they would have broke the bank on a snack that is all of 2 bites!

  3. I'm still looking for the yuzu flavored sembei I fell in love with in Japan a few summers ago. I completely agree that while we do get some in the states, the fun flavors we are lacking.

  4. I feel fortunate that I have a Japanese store relatively close by. Unfortunately, they stopped selling curry sembei.

  5. Earlier this year I decided to try and make sembei here and maybe try to sell them to an American audience with Westernized modifications. First of all I found scant recipes on the internet and when I did they were not real ones. I tried and failed miserably to make them...horrible. They have only 3 ingredients, rice flour, baking powder, and water yet they ended up like round discs of chewy gluey icky! They were only slightly better when I roasted them. Fail!


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