Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Bakauke Wasabi Sembei
When I was a kid, my parents used to go on and on about horseradish and how much they loved it. They'd keep jars of white pasty gunk in the refrigerator which smelled awful to me and tasted so overwhelmingly hot that I couldn't bear it.
After growing up, I grew to love really hot food, but I've lived in Japan for 20 years and have never eaten anything with Japanese horseradish (wasabi). I'm guessing part of the reason for this is that I haven't eaten much sushi and another part is that my husband can't bear super hot foods so anything we eat together can't be likely to leave scorch marks on his tongue.
This may come as a shock to many out there, but I just sort of forgot about the existence of wasabi in Japan. It's sold in root form or paste form here, but I am not big on condiments and I never notice the actual roots in produce sections (or they're not there). When I saw this packet of sembei at my local Family Mart, I remembered that 1) wasabi exists 2) I like hot foods and 3) I might like wasabi if I tried it.
This is a relatively small bag at 27 grams (.95 oz.). It has 122 calories and contains a nice amount of smallish (5.5 cm/2 in. x 2 cm./.8 in.) rice crackers liberally studded with wasabi. The portion is just about right for snacking without eating too many calories. I paid about 130 yen ($1.25) for it.
The first bite was intensely hot. The heat really seemed to hit near the front of my tongue. This is rather different from eating salsa which seems to affect the back, sides and center of my tongue. The heat mellows rather rapidly. It doesn't have the tendency to build up like capsicum-based heat does. It hits and passes. There's a hint of the vegetable flavor of wasabi root. It's hard to describe, but it's just the barest sense of chlorophyll or grassiness. It adds depth to the flavor along with the familiar taste of rice crackers.
The crackers themselves are fresh, crispy, and don't have the roasted or overcooked taste that some sembei does. These taste lighter. I ate the first half bag of these without a drink and it started to send the heat up the back of my nose. Once I started drinking between bites, that effect mellowed out. By the way, they're supposedly banana-shaped in order to make them easy to eat with one hand, though I've never had sembei which was so huge that I had to use both hands to eat it.
I really enjoyed these, and I wouldn't hesitate to have them again. They're quite hot, but that's to be expected. If you like wasabi, I wholeheartedly recommend trying these. If you just like hot foods, I think they're worth a one-time sample at the very least.
Incidentally, the two characters at the top of the bag that serve as the mascots are supposed to be a female named "Valine" (in red) and a male named "Borine" (in blue). The company's web site has peculiarly detailed bios for each character including hobbies, birth dates, dislikes, and family structure. Valine is a Virgo born on September 10 and Borine is an Aries born on April 15. I now know more about these characters's lives than I know about some of my friends.