When you visit a Japanese home, you’re sure to be warmly welcomed with a piping hot cup of tea paired with snacks. And probably, that snack will be senbei or Japanese rice crackers!
What Are Senbei?
Senbei are grilled or baked crackers made of rice, and they are known for being a crunchy, flavorful, and affordable snack. They come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and flavors, but you’re probably most familiar with the round, soy sauce flavored ones. Traditional senbei flavors include soy sauce, shrimp, or seaweed, but in Japan, creative senbei flavors abound. Though you will find many savory flavors, plenty of snack companies in Japan have come up with senbei coated with sugar, targeting kids or anyone with a sweet tooth.
As snack companies strive to make new senbei that stand out in the crowd, there have been increasingly unique flavors, such as shiquasa citrus-flavored senbei found only in Okinawa, or savory-sweet corn on the cob senbei that captures a summer festival favorite. Speaking of festivals, they’re a great place to try freshly made senebi! Stalls make them just like they did in the old days, grilling them in front of you with a generous brushing of soy sauce. Even at festivals, shop owners change up their senbei with variations, including ones topped with egg or corn!
The great thing about senbei (aside from being delicious) is they’re very affordable, so it’s a great snack to have on hand and it’s easy to try loads of different types without breaking the bank. It’s no wonder you will see them as refreshments in any Japanese home or even at the office. Senbei usually come individually wrapped, so it’s easy to set them up for a neat presentation on your coffee or kitchen table. Just grab a few and put them in a basket for easy sharing!
For even easier sharing, there are also bite-sized rice crackers called arare, which are about the size of popcorn. Want to know a cute fact about these little guys? The name arare comes from the Japanese word for “hail,” because of their small size but also because hail can vary in size and shape! Arare fall under a food category called otsumami, which are tiny snacks perfectly paired with beer. Literally meaning “to grab,” otsumami includes arare, as well as dried squid, peanuts, and roasted green peas and are typically paired with beer. If you’ve had a long day at school or work, wind down with some arare and a cup of hojicha, a roasted green tea with a nutty flavor and less caffeine (so that’s one less thing to feel guilty about for a midnight snack).
Another reason to love senbei is their long shelf life. The rice crackers are dried out so they can last for long periods of time. The first record of senbei in Japan is from 737 A.D., and many ancient poems reference travelers carrying "rice crackers" for the long road ahead. So, add senbei to your Japanese snack lineup, and rest assured you’ll always have delicious snacks in reach!
If you’re interested in a light, low-calorie snack without sacrificing flavor, senbei is here for you. We think they’re a great alternative to potato chips–they’re full of flavor, fill you up faster, and come in more flavors. The onigiri-shaped senbei lightly flavored with wasabi is a snackable, classic senbei with a kick. If you love fried food, then you’ll love this spin on traditional shrimp senbei, all without the grease—fried shrimp senbei married with soy sauce and spices, including curry powder, black pepper, and garam masala. Who says low-calorie snacks can’t be satisfying?
Are you ready to try out this Japanese snack staple? Find your favorite with a Japanese snack subscription and discover the wide world of senbei!