Friday, January 25, 2013

Want Want Salad Sembei

Don't let the title of this post fool you into thinking I had double desire for these sembei. That's simply the name of the brand. It is actually quite familiar to me with it's logo of an excited young man in what appears to be an old-style professional wrestlers costume. I never saw this brand in Japan, but this particular sembei (that means "rice crackers", to those out there who are uninitiated in this lingo) is the product of an allegiance between a Japanese and a Chinese company.

The Japanese end of this alliance, which I recognize based on one corporate logo shaking hands with the other on the back of the pack, is Iwatsuka Seika. I reviewed quite a few of their sembei when I was living in Japan, and figured that seeing what the deal is with these was worth a dollar (90 yen). That's all I paid for them at Daiso Japan. That makes them cheaper than similar crackers in Japan. Unless they are the worst sembei ever (and even bad sembei tends to be pretty decent), they were almost certainly going to be worth a buck.

Before I get too far, I have to say that I wonder what the deal is with these. Iwatsuka already has its own line of crackers. Why would they produce these in cooperation with a Chinese company? The obvious answer is that making these in China is a lot cheaper than making them in Japan, but they have to keep the name of a Japanese company on them in order to waive away the food safety boogeyman that haunts every Japanese food consumer. That illustration of hands shaking is an assurance that a reputable Japanese company has the backs of the Japanese people. They're probably sending armies of managers to the factories and they're frowning in concentration as they oversea the underpaid foreign labor. Of course, I don't know if this is true, and you absolutely should not take my word for it, except for the boogeyman part. That's absolutely a fact.

Personally, I don't care where these were made or who made them. I only care about how they taste and play out in terms of texture. If they're crispy and light and enjoyably savory, it's not my problem if hundreds of managers from Iwatsuka develop permanent frown lines on their brows and around their mouths.

Incidentally, I have no idea why these are called "salad", but this flavor name is common in Japan. I've heard that it refers to salad oil, but I have no way of knowing if that is correct. It doesn't taste anything like any sort of salad, and the ingredients list does not include typical flavoring agents for any sort of salad I've ever had. It does include MSG, and rosemary extract as well as salt and pepper. There are other generic flavorings listed, and soy sauce is probably in there, but the truth is that these are not powerfully flavored rice crackers.

Not everything has to be powerful to be enjoyable, however. These carry the standard "baked rice" flavor as well as possess an crispy lightness. The flavor is extremely mild and what the Japanese and food snobs call "umami". It is rather generically savory as all of the included flavors merge into a melange which provides a clean and uncomplicated flavor profile. The crackers are wrapped individually as 2-packs and each is about 35 calories.

In the U.S., there are plenty of plain potato chips and someone must love them. I'm guessing that salad sembei is the equivalent of such chips in Japan. I liked these, but I didn't "love" them. They certainly filled the bill for a salty snack and especially did well toward taking me back to the flavors I associate with living in Japan. For the price, and sembei can be very expensive in the U.S., I'd be very happy to pick a bag of these up occasionally again.


Apple-Ling said...

Are you sure these are a collaboration with a Chinese company? I'm asking because I've got a packet from the same brand (same old little boy logo) but without the Japanese company logo, and the package says they were made in Taiwan? If they were made in China I honestly wouldn't have bought them (not that Taiwanese safety regulations are all that much better, but my family tends to have more trust for the "home country"). Maybe they produce in both China and Taiwan? Although I can't understand why if that's the case, since China is probably much cheaper.

Orchid64 said...

There's no doubt about it. The country of origin as written on the package in Japanese says "chugoku" which means "China". There's also a little blurb about it being a cooperative effort.

Based on Want Want's web site, I was also surprised that this said "China" because clearly the company mainly seems to operate out of Taiwan. So, I can see why you may wonder. ;-)

Thanks for your comment!