Monday, July 23, 2012
Shouga (Ginger) Sembei
Modern life is fraught with choice. In fact, I've read that psychologists have done studies in which too much choice causes stress and people need to tune out a lot of the options in modern stores because it is overwhelming to them. In Japan, there were often items in the snack sections that my eyes pretty much slid past. I saw them, but there were so many choices and I knew that I couldn't try them all so some were left behind. As the time of my planned departure drew near, I started noticing all of the things, especially in the traditional/granny's snacks areas, that I had never gotten around to reviewing. I regretted that I couldn't get to them all, but I also know that there are vast swathes of food that I never ate back home either.
Next time you're in a market, take a close look at what you reject out of hand everyday because it falls outside of your regular consumption. You may be surprised at how many items you've never put in your shopping basket because they didn't light your fire compared to other items of a similar nature. We tend to form chains of preferences rather than to step far beyond our circle of likes. Part of what people who review food do for you is tell you about products such that you might feel compelled to take notice and buy outside the box, or confirm that you probably would like to make sure that a certain item never gets into your box.
I saw a lot of these little crackers/cookies. They look like the mutant offspring of a fortune cookie and a frosted flake. Part of what made me dismiss them in Japan was that I had been mislead by streaky white stuff on sembei before which looked sweet, but was just coatings of weirdness. However, during my feeding frenzy at the Daiso Japan, I dived in and bought this 90-gram (3.2 oz.) bag for $1.50 (118 yen). I took the presence of such things for granted, but somehow was not punished for my lack of regard.
I've mentioned before that the Japanese call a wide variety of rice-based crispy snacks "sembei". While western folks who are somewhat familiar think of them as savory rice crackers, largely flavored with soy sauce or sesame, there are a number of sweet versions and this is one of them. They're more like a cookie than a cracker, except that they lack the textural elements of a cookie.
Each little bit of sembei is coated with a hard frosting and they smell very strange, almost like some odd chemical is at work. The flavor is very strongly infused with ginger and quite sweet. This is no surprise as the ingredients include sugar, glucose, fructose, and dextrin. All those sweeteners are held together with a little wheat flour, eggs, and margarine and flavored with ginger. Health food, this is certainly not.
In terms of the sugar, this is probably going to be far too much for people who aren't fans of especially sweet food. However, if you like candied ginger, this is like a crispy version of it. Fortunately for me, I am a fan of said version of ginger, but there are limits to how much one can eat at once before the sweetness and intense ginger start to overwhelm. You can look at that as built-in portion control, or as an impediment to finishing the bag before it goes stale. The latter did occur in my case, but I wasn't eating small amounts daily so it would be possible to have a few a day and still have the last one be crispy.
I loved these, but I recognize that they may be far too strong and sweet for a lot of people. I can't rate it for others, but I wouldn't hesitate to buy this again. That being said, I wouldn't want to have it around all of the time or eat it day in and day out. There's really only so much super sweet ginger that I need in my life, but this has an excellent flavor and great crispy texture. Candied ginger fans should definitely seek it out. Others will want to give it a pass.
These are made by a company called Nanao, but it's my guess that any ginger sembei that resembles this will be much the same. It's one of those companies which is small and has little presence in the market in terms of name recognition. You can buy this particular brand online at Pacific Mercantile Company, or the Marukai e-store, though I got mine at the Daiso Japan shop in Mountain View, CA.