Every shopping street with visitors from outside the area has at least one: A stand where not only do they make crackers in front of your eyes, toast them over a fire and dip them in soy sauce and add spices - if they want it.
They are making senbei (せんべい), the Japanese rice crackers. When you are walking down the shopping street you can buy one fresh off the grill, dipped in soy sauce and crackling as it dries.
Rice snack from rice flour
Senbei is a Japanese favorite snack, and there are lots of variations. Different from other rice snacks, they are made from rice flour. The beaten dough made from glutinous rice called mochi is different. There are senbei made from mochi too, grilled or fried, like a kind of popcorn without the corn.
Dipped in soy sauce
But the regular version is made from rice flour dough. It is kneaded and beaten to a flat disk, about half a centimeter thick and ten to twelve centimeters in diameter. And dipped in soy sauce, sprinkled with a seasoning, and dried quickly. There are wet kinds, which are soft and squishy, but senbei are commonly hard - as crackers.
Many sprinkled seasonings
The main flavor may be soy sauce, but the seasonings sprinkled on top can be spicy, or salty, or sweet. Or citrus, from the Japanese yuzu fruit. There are senbei with sesame seeds or beans baked into the dough, and those lightly dipped or soaked in soy sauce. And there are other kinds which are not round, but shaped like sausages or squares or other shapes, and which are seasoned with soy sauce absorbed by the senbei. You want to be careful with the red pepper ones. Your kids will not like them.
Supermarket senbei section
Most Japanese supermarkets have a whole section of different senbei, because there are a huge number of manufacturers. Most of them are basically the same, but different people have different favorites. The cheapest kind are the "waresenbei (われせんべい )", which have been broken during manufacturing. Nothing wrong with the taste, but they are half price compared to the unbroken ones.
Crunchy yet chewy
Senbei are great snacks, especially if your children has just got their full set of teeth. They are crunchy when you bite into them, and they are chewy once you have got them into your mouth. They contain neither sugar nor fat but the soy sauce dip gives them "umami" flavor, just like meat. And they are cheap - you can get a big bag for around 200 yen.
Was this helpful? If you liked it, I have written about the 10 foods your children will ask for more of in Japan, kids menus in family and other restaurants, how much it costs to visit Japan, and of course about picking strawberries in Tochigi. If you want more, I am working on a guidebook for families coming to Tokyo. Follow my progress and get discount cupons by signing up to my newsletter below.
I am Wisterian Watertree, recently moved from Bangkok to Tokyo, with a brief visit to Honolulu on the way. I write about travel, especially with our three beautiful kids (two girls and one boy, soon turning six - yes. they are triplets). Travel is education and fun rolled into one, and if you are like me, that is something you want to give to your kids. If you want more tips and want to find out when I will publish something, get it from my email list. If you want to be personal, drop me a note on firstname.lastname@example.org, or if you want general tips, follow me on Twitter @wisterianw.