Before I started this blog, I was reluctant to sample a lot of Japanese foods. To be perfectly honest, I didn't know what a lot of the traditional flavors were because I just didn't pay that much attention to the food. I've tried a lot of things, and not everything has really floated my boat, but I've come to really be attracted to two flavors in particular. One is kinako, or toasted soybean flour, and the other is yuzu. For those who don't know, it's an Asian citrus fruit with a flavor which is both unique and familiar. It's piquant without being too sour or tart. Every time a new yuzu-based product comes out, I am drawn to it.
In fact, I am so in love with the flavor of yuzu that I was willing to overlook the inclusion of seafood flavors, including shrimp, when deciding to sample this. Shrimp tends to be the equivalent of my own gustatory ipecac, but I had some confidence that it won't be an overblown flavor in these rice crackers. Why? Well, simple logic... There isn't a picture of a shrimp on the bag so, you know, it can't be all that intense. Right? If it was important, they'd definitely show a picture, probably a "chibified" shrimp that looks elated at the idea of being consumed by hungry salt fiends.
I found them at Okashi no Machioka for 168 yen ($2.09). That gets you 88 grams (3.1 oz.) of crackers. It stocks pretty much every Befco product that comes out, at least for a little while, so it's a good place to find new and interesting flavors. I've made fun of the name "Befco" before because it sounds like the Biffco industries from the second "Back to the Future". The good people at Befco finally explained the naming to me on the back of the bag. It stands for "Beika Frontier Company". I'm not sure what they are on the frontiers of, but there it is... another Japanese company name which is in English and pretty much ignores all logic.
The crackers smell like a pleasant melange of savory flavors including a meaty scent reminiscent of pork and chicken, yuzu, and seafood. The flavors are multi-layered. The first thing you get is, most unfortunately, oil. These are one of the more heavily fried versions of sembei. The next level is the meaty elements with garlic, shrimp, beef, and crab. Finally, there is an astringent finish of yuzu. The texture is nicely crispy, but still easy to bite into. These are puffy, but not airy. There's just the right amount of salt. Each is 26.5 calories, but they aren't the biggest crackers. They're around half the size of my palm.
These are good sembei, but for me personally, they didn't make the cut. I'm thoroughly spoiled, however, since I live in Japan and can buy a huge variety of such snacks. It's not that they are modestly enjoyable and don't have an excellent texture, but they are too oily and the yuzu element isn't strong enough for me. I'd still recommend sampling them if you're a sembei fan, but I can't see buying them again.