Rice crackers have come a long way in Australia. In fact, I’d go as far as to say they’ve travelled that proverbial country mile to shed the image of being those stale, bland little bar snacks that came in various shapes and colours. Today, we’ve progressed to crispy, flavourful discs that are routinely appearing on cheese and dip platters at backyard barbecues. You can even get better quality tidbits at your local supermarket with seaweed wrapped around some of them (and you know they’re bona fide crackers when there’s seaweed involved!).
I don’t want to take anything away from Sakata and other valiant efforts to get rice crackers into the snacking mainstream but they’re still not on par with the sort of rice crackers you get in Japan. Naturally you can’t really compete with centuries of rice cracker making tradition there, and sadly I don’t think there ever will be any real need to raise the bar here in Australia. Considering most rice crackers end up being dipped in hummus, as long as they are crisp and taste vaguely of something, there’s not much need for them to be better than they are.
Luckily for me I can generally get a good supply of rice crackers (senbei, arare or okaki – different names for different styles of rice crackers in Japan) either from my Japanese grocer Nippon Food Supply (in Fremantle or Subiaco), or from online stores. Every so often the grocer runs out and can’t get more in for a few months which sends me into a bit of a spin. In such cases I’ll turn to the most authentic non-Japanese crackers available here and put an emergency online order in. In a week’s time, sanity is restored!
Most Japanese rice crackers are flavoured with soy sauce (or tamari) and baked to characteristic crispness. Some rice crackers are fried and flavoured with sweetened soy or lightly salted (they’re called sarada – possibly after salad oil). The seasonings used are often traditional Japanese flavours such as dried plum, seasoned seaweed (ao nori – my favourite), prawn, wasabi and so on. Some makers marry cheese with rice crackers which makes for an interesting but tasty East/West combo. My current favourite has large dried soy beans mixed through the cracker for an added crunch.
Rice crackers vary in quality. You can get anything from general snack types which are sold in supermarkets and combini (convenience stores) and don’t cost much, right through to individually wrapped artisan crackers that are presented in decorative boxes for gift-giving. However they are presented, rice crackers in Japan are always sold with a small sachet of desiccant enclosed in the packaging, ever mindful that they absorb moisture very easily. Sadly, I can count the number of times I’ve bought a pack of Sakata crackers and found its content stale well before its ‘Best Before’ date. Disasteur!
Other than the ones that are fried in oil, rice crackers are generally low in fat and in that respect, a better snack food item than potato chips or corn chips. They are however still rice and those in fear of carbs should limit their intake. I personally can eat an entire pack of rice crackers in a sitting. They’re one of those things you just don’t get tired of eating. This is a problem as I tend to buy quite a few packs of rice crackers from my Japanese grocer with the intention of rationing them out for a few months but I usually cave in and eat my supply within a couple of weeks. I figure I may as well enjoy them while their fresh!