Friday, November 1, 2013

Peakal Cheese Rice Crackers

They're "all-natural"! I guess that including silicon dioxide and maltodextrin is good then.

When I was living in Japan, many of my American friends would tell me how much they loved sushi. Since I don't love sushi (I think it's okay, but I'm not mad about it), I found their zeal for it a bit curious. It turns out that they weren't eating the sushi that I was eating because much American sushi is a more elaborate affair than Japanese sushi.

When I say, "elaborate", I mean that it's a more flavorful mess. When it's not, people tend to saturate it with soy sauce, wasabi, etc. to make it tastier to their Americanized palates. In no way do I mean this as a criticism, so please don't misunderstand me. I believe we develop tastes based on the food we're raised with and Americans like strong flavors. Japanese like subtle ones. Sushi in the U.S. and how it is eaten tends to reflect this. My point is that the sushi I had experience with and was so-so about was not the same as the sushi Americans were mad about.

As my regular readers (you know who you are, and I love you for following my drivel) know, I became a huge fan of rice crackers (sembei). Most Americans are a bit so-so on them, or simply don't care for them at all. I can understand that, with flavor-blasted chips and crackers, sembei might seem like a rather boring affair, but I have come to understand that that is not the reason. The reason is that the rice crackers that I was eating in Japan are not the rice crackers that people are eating in America.

I buy most of my sembei from Asian markets and all of it, so far, has been produced for the Japanese market. Occasionally, I do want to try something a bit more "mass market". That is, I pick up something which is sold in a generic American grocery store that anyone living anywhere in the U.S. might conceivably have access to. I do this because I want to see if I'll ever find something which has verisimilitude to what is sold in Japan or whether Americans are doomed to that animal that they call "rice cracker" which seems to be the ugly mutant cousin to Japanese sembei.

I found this package of rice crackers at "Big! Lots". I was there bargain hunting for a memory foam mattress topper and the snacks lured me in. You may scoff at my pedestrian shopping habits, but as long as I'm being paid a dime a post for my blog efforts, I'm going to economically more suited to the "Big! Lots" crowd than the Macy's one. This was about 70 cents, so I didn't have to pay much for my disappointment.

They look a little diseased.

When I tried rice crackers for the American market before, I noted that they were always quite a bit lower in calories. It's clear that the fat content on them is lower and that has a profound impact on the texture. In Japan, rice crackers really are more like chips in that they rarely spare the oil, especially when it comes to the "arare" (small, super crunchy, hard nuggets of rice cracker) ones. In the U.S., someone has clearly decided anything sold as a rice cracker has to be health food. Sure, the calories are lower, but the crackers are tough and crunchy in an unpleasant way. Without the oil, they are harder to chew and bite into and lack the crumbly, crunchy nature of "real" sembei.

These failed on the texture front, but they also failed on the flavor front as well. Though labeled as "cheese", there was barely any flavor powder on them. It's as if they sprinkled enough to add a vague orange cast in select spots and stingily hoarded the rest. Actually, there's a very good chance that there really just wasn't enough oil on the surface to hold onto any salt or flavor powder. It could be that this is a little like air-popped popcorn. Nothing sticks to it so it's like eating Styrofoam packing peanuts.

I didn't expect much of this, but I do still hope to find some good mass market rice crackers without resorting to Asian markets. There are two reasons for this. One is that I'd like to find something that can be had at regular stores. Another and much bigger issue is price. Buying Japanese sembei is not for one who is light in the wallet. If I'm lucky, I can find something on sale for around $2, but far more often than not, they cost $4.00-$6.00 a bag. I have had many experiences in which I've seen some sembei that I loved in Japan, but I simply could not justify paying such a price for a snack. This is especially so when the portions are relatively tiny. So, while this was a disappointment, the search will carry on.

1 comment:

Camille Cruz said...

It looks like the manufacturers have forsaken quality over quantity with their product in this one. It always makes me wonder weather people who churn such things out for mass consumption really make the products as they are to save up on spices or another to keep them affordable or if they just have lesser papillae than most people and actually believe them to be good.
The caption under the last photo made me laugh, just needed to say that :)) Thank you for another interesting read!(I've now come into the habit of calling your posts, bite size breaks, I hope you don't mind?) always a lovely thing to see new ones.