Rice can be used in many different ways, inlcuding making sweet and savory snacks. Rice and in particular rice flour is used to make a wide variety of snacks, which perhaps more thank anything demonstrates the versatility of rice and the Japanese people's imaginative ways of using it. From light and crispy, savoury senbei and arare to wagashi cakes and sweets, rice can be enjoyed in a multitude of different tastes, textures and colours.
Probably the most well know Japanese snack is mochi. Mochigome, or glutinous rice is slightly sweeter than regular rice and becomes sticky when steamed. The simplest way of enjoying this rice is as mochi, where the steamed rice is pounded into a sticky paste. Mochi is most famously consumed at the New Year when it is often produced by groups of people pounding mochigome using a large mallet and mortar, a practice known as mochitsuki. As well as consumed as it comes, mochi can also be grilled, when it is known as yakimochi. This is one of the most satisfying ways to enjoy mochi as the outside becomes golden and crispy.
In contrast to the heaviness and stickiness of mochi, baked Japanese rice crackers are exceptionally light and crispy. Arare crackers, which literally means 'hailstones' in Japanese, are as their name suggest, small and hard and are made from mochigome flour while the larger senbei crackers are made from regular rice flour. In both cases, the rice flour is steamed to create a paste that is spread out thinly before being cut into the required shapes, dried and then baked or fried. Finally, seasonings are added and, if not being consumed immediately, the crackers are sealed in airtight packaging to keep them fresh.
Both varieties can be seasoned with various ingredients, either sweet or savoury. Senbei are often flavoured with soy sauce but can be salted, shrimp flavour or coated in sesame seeds. Alternatively, they can have nuts or soy beans mixed in or can be coated in sugar. Both senbei and arare are also often wrapped in nori seaweed sheets. Senbei are often served to guests along with tea, while the smaller arare are also enjoyed as and accompaniment to alcoholic drinks, a category of food that is known as tsumamimono in Japanese.
BY STUART TURNER
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BY STUART TURNER
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