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Really Great Senbei?

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When I visited Japan, I acquired a taste, unfortunately, for really good senbei (those crunchy soy-dipped crackers). I haven't been able to find any for sale here in the states. Does anyone have suggestions? Any sources for top-notch imported stuff? Or are there any great american-made senbei?

I'm not talking about pretty good senbei...supermarket senbei like trader joe's or the stuff you find for a couple bucks per bag in asian markets. i mean the artisinal stuff.

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  1. There's NOTHING? :)

    2 Replies
    1. re: Jim Leff

      Try Umeya Rice Cake Company.

      Dunno if it is "aritsinal" enough for you, but this place makes good rice crackers of all kinds, including senbei. Located in Little Tokyo in Los Angeles.

      Good luck with your search.

      http://www.umeyaricecake.com/

      1. re: ipsedixit

        cool, sounds good, thanks!

        woops, meant to type "artisanal"

    2. I live off of senbei! The Mitsuwa marketplace is Costa Mesa has a very wide selection. They also have an independent vendor in the market that sells authentic senbei in lovely little packages.....yummmm......

      1 Reply
      1. re: koshie

        I've been to the Mitsuwa in NJ. I swear I'm not being snobby on this, but any senbei that's $2-7 for a bag is not going to be the serious, hand-crafted stuff. And that's all these markets sell.

        As for the lovely (and expensive) packages, that sounds better. There's a vendor like that in NJ, too, but they sell, alas, senbei that are fancy/authentic/hand-crafted, but not particularly delicious.

        The really good stuff is vexingly hard to find...

      2. I'm only a half a year too late with this, but in case you still watch the thread and are still looking, have you tried imported Hasoda Brothers available mail order through the Takahashi market in San Mateo? Talk to Gene.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Brockage

          Thanks, I'm on it!

          I see from their catalog, at http://www.takahashimarket.com/docume...
          that they have some hard-to-find hawaiin stuff, too.

          1. re: Jim Leff

            Sembei is perishable; as a result, the competion in Japan insures that it is next to impossible to find great replicas here. Even if you do, you need the corespondingly great green tea like certain Sayama-cha varieties. Then, you need to master the technique of making the green tea and get it down pat. Consequently, I think it's easier to fly to Japan to eat good sembei than it is to get it here.

        2. Perhaps it is because I have never had the good stuff, but I have never acquired a taste for senbei, even thought I like most Japanese food. It leaves a very strange aftertaste in my mouth. Is that because I have only had the "cheap stuff"? (specifically i am referring to the ararae style of senbei).

          2 Replies
          1. re: KaimukiMan

            Yeah, the good stuff is pure of aftertaste. Though freshness also plays a part, for sure.

            1. re: Jim Leff

              Hey Leff-san,

              If you find the good stuff, lemme know. I've got a monkey on my back like a tourist in Nikko!

              Yoroshiku,
              Andy

          2. From my experience, the very best I have ever had are all toothbreakingly hard, and very solid and heavy. Unlike the light, airy ones you can find everywhere.

            The only aftertaste they give would be the taste of freshly-roasted rice.

            1 Reply
            1. re: tarteaucitron

              Yeah, there's a bit of a Bagel Test at work. The easier they are to eat, the more fake they are!

              But seriously....bear in mind that there are many variety of senbei. I've had light airy incredible ones in Japan. Also some with a malty/soy aftertaste. One thing's for sure, though...aftertaste should be PURE.

            2. Just got the following via email from a staunch lurker:

              --------------
              You can find artisinal o-senbei in Japan. The ones I've had shippped
              to me (my mom is Japanese) are hand-formed round and rectanglar
              patties baked over a wood fire until they develop blisters and
              seasoned with artisinal shoyus. If they are wrapped in nori, the
              nori is of very high grade and toasted crisp. They are deeply
              crunchy and brittle, like the small nori-wrapped rods but much more
              so, and robust in rice, soy sauce, and nori flavors. (The more
              brittle o-senbei, like you find in a fingerbowl at a bar, are not
              gourmet at all. They are trivia.)

              Some artisinals also are exceedingly salty, so much so that even my
              mom hesitates to eat one. These salty o-senbei are rather soft,
              unlike the typical crunchy types. You also can get artisinal
              o-senbei that contain various dried seafoods. Most artisinals are
              packed in gorgeously decorated metal boxes lined with high-quality,
              thick, white corrugated papers. They also have eye-popping prices
              being essentially a rice snack. Imagine a corn chip product that you
              would buy, say, from a family vendor that has been making them for
              generations by hand, frying them in gourmet oils, and seasoning them
              with gourmet salts and spices.

              You've got to get away from mass market stores to the Japanese shops
              and stalls that cater to people expecting to purchase hand made
              crackers made from traditional recipes by bakers, not machines.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Jim Leff

                That said, in countless Japanese B1 floors, one can find a staggering array of artisanal o-senbei which change seasonally, monthly, biannually, and when the wind blows over the village manufacturer. As many of you know, we eat first with our eyes, and in the senbei business, the package, the wrapping, the carton, the box, and the cannister are much, much, much, much more important than anywhere else in the world. Perceived obsolescence even affects the rice cracker arena. It is a competitive field. Even if the senbei doesn't change much, all the externals do.

              2. Jim,
                You are right that there is a huge difference in quality between industrial and artisanal senbei - although one get also get really good industrial one's.
                There is a site selling artisanal senbei from Japanese makers with world-wide shipping.

                http://www.ANYTHING-FROM-JAPAN.COM/ja...

                They also explain the story behind each product and the producer, so that it is interesting to read anyhow.

                1. Thought you might enjoy this photo of tori sasami senbei, made of pounded chicken breasts, from a restaurant in San Jose, CA.
                  http://www.flickr.com/photos/melaniew...