Friday, February 26, 2010
When Japanese people explain sembei, they sometimes call it a cracker and at other times a cookie. It turns out that sembei is one of those words like "biscuit" in English. That is, it can apply to more than one type of food. Taiko sembei is not a rice cracker, but a dense cookie.
The reason these are called "taiko" (Japanese drum) sembei is that two cookies are wrapped together in a little shrink-wrapped package. The cookies are meant to resemble the two ends of a drum. I bought a big package with 10 double packets in it for about 200 yen ($2.22). That means that each generously sized cookie is only 10 yen (11 cents) each. That makes these much cheaper than Japanese-made Western-style cookies.
These are made by a company named Nanao Seika. The company started doing business in 1957 by making "crackers" (these cookies are called crackers on their web site). Their main products continue to be hard cookies and crackers, but they also make doughnuts and fruit gelatin snacks (called "jelly" in Japan, but they are essentially what we call gelatin or "Jell-O".) Their line of products is limited, and as far as I know they have no "signature" products which are commonly exported, though I'd be surprised if their peanut sembei or these taiko sembei didn't make their way into Asian supermarkets in other countries.
These cookies are dense, dry and brittle. There are three or four roasted and unsalted peanuts in the center of each cookie. The cookie itself is lightly sweet and tastes of toasted flour, margarine, and mild sweetness. They are incredibly crunchy and have a flavor which is just a bit shy of being burnt.
The only thing which I'm not necessarily happy about is that they're a little dense in calories for a cookie which isn't very sweet. The calorie information states that there are 475 calories for 100 grams, but they don't give the weight of the entire bag. My unreliable kitchen scale places 6 cookies at 100 grams. That makes each cookie about 70-80 calories, and I'm always going to eat two because of the packaging style and the fact that they will most certainly be no good if they are stale.
I really like these, but texture often factors more strongly into my enjoyment of things than taste. These are not very sweet and they lack the flaky nature of most butter cookies. They remind me of what might happen if you flattened some yellow cake batter into as dense a disc as possible and then cooked it to the "dark" toast setting. I'd definitely buy these again, though not incredibly often, but I can't guarantee that others would find them as appealing as I do.