Monday, February 18, 2013

Shirakiku Koban Sembei (Cheese)

I'd seen these rice crackers (sembei) hanging around the racks at Daiso Japan for awhile and ignored them because they had a fluorescent pink $1.00 sticker on them. I figured that, in a shop that usually sells things for $1.50, there had to be something wrong with them for the price to be marked down.

However, my desire for cheesy goodness coupled with what I saw as a funny name overrode any apprehension I had. And, yes, I realize how ridiculous it is to have any hesitation about spending a buck on a bag of snack crackers, but I've had far too many unfinished packages in my life from a lack of judiciousness in these situations. As someone who is borderline obsessed with not wasting things (I save broccoli stems and asparagus stalks to make soup because I can't stand to toss them out), I feel bad about just tossing things out. That's probably why there are so few of the "unhappy" and "very unhappy" ratings on this blog as they mean that I decided simply to throw something away. I always try to finish.

At any rate, the name of these reminds me of Japanese police boxes which are called koban. I imagined that these were the snack of choice for men who spent their days giving people directions and stopping people to ask if they'd stolen their bikes. In essence, I liked to imagine that these were to Japanese cops as donuts are to American ones.

However, my banal little fantasy is stopped in its tracks by the fact that the words are the same, but the kanji (Chinese characters) are different. This isn't this koban - 交番 it's that koban - 小判. If you can't read that and it shows up as gibberish for you, it doesn't matter because I'm just going to say that the latter refers to an oval coin used during the feudal Edo period in Japan. Bummer. It was funnier to imagine portly cops with salt-covered fingers talking about the latest results of the Yomiuri Giants while ordering a young compatriot to go chase down a foreigner and make him prove he's not a criminal.

My lazy cop fantasies dashed, I sat down and tried my super cheap sembei and was pleasantly surprised. These crackers are a flavor burst of pleasantly pungent cheesy goodness with a nice dose of what I can only call a meaty (umami) kick. The second bite starts in with some smoked cheese flavor. They are not too much of anything and that allows the flavor depth to come through.

The meaty flavor probably comes courtesy of MSG, but cheese is nowhere to be found in the ingredients list. It does include a handful of chemicals including "artificial flavor" and aspartame. Though they don't taste especially sweet, they do include sugar and glucose syrup in addition to the aforementioned artificial sweetener. All in all, these could put the "junk" in junk food.

Despite their nutritional shortcomings, I've already bought these twice and would buy them again. I love the cheesy flavor with savory undertones as well as the good portion control of the individual packages with two crackers each (25 calories). They're also very economical as a sembei option and the Daiso Japan is one of the easier haunts for me to reach if I'm in the mood for some rice cracker lovin'. While Amazon carries a lot of Shirakaku's Japanese food products, they, unfortunately, do not carry the cheese sembei.

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