Japanese rice crackers (senbei) are the most popular and varied type of snack in Japan. Every store has their own unique take on the senbei, each deeply rooted in tradition. In this post we take a look at the Menbei.
Menbei, a portmanteau of "Men
taiko" and "Senbei
", is made by the 100-year-old Aburiya Fukutaro
in the city of Hakata (read more about this hidden foodie capital of Japan here
). Hakata has historically been a merchant town and Fukutaro got its start as an oil merchant (aburiya means oil merchant). They soon expanded to other food items including Hakata's regional speciality, the mentaiko (spiced cod roe).
This is what mentaiko looks like. It's considered the red caviar of Japan.
In 1975, when Hakata finally got their own bullet train station, Fukutaro capitalized on the opportunity for increased traffic and commerce and started to sell their mentaiko and menbei senbei in the train station. The rest is history.
The Menbei crackers come in a very simple, rustic, thin kraft board box. It's definitely not the sturdiest box out there but it gets the job done. If you are thinking about bringing some back as souvenirs, you might have be extra careful not to smush it in your bag as the crackers can be on the fragile side.
As with most Japanese snacks, each senbei is individually packaged. The menbei boxes come in a variety of sizes, but each individual package has two crackers in them. I like the traditional looking design of the box but wish it were a bit sturdier.
The menbei mixture before baking
As you might have guessed by now, the Menbei rice cracker is a special type of senbei made by using the mentaiko as the main ingredient. Senbei, as the name implies, are usually made from rice, but the menbei uses a different type of starch based flour mixture which gives it its flat shape. They then knead the flour mixture into a blend of spices, mentaiko, and other dried seafood such as octopus and squid. The result is a thin wafer-shaped rice cracker that is hard and crispy, but undeniably delicious.
This definitely has a seafood cracker-like smell and taste to it. But it's a good type of seafood smell and taste. The flavors are not overpowering, but rather a subtle, complex goodness that spreads throughout your mouth. It's salty but has a hint of sweetness. Honestly, it's hard to describe these snacks...just that it's super tasty!
The menbei come in many different flavors too. The one we have here is the original, but you can get scallion, Japanese leeks, mayo, bonito, and spicy flavors too.
Fukutaro's Menbei is something that you can continue eating and never get sick of. As soon as you finish the first one, you crave for more. What's great about Fukutaro is that they are always supporting their community. Not only are all the ingredients sourced from only family farms and fisheries, but they activity try to improve their community. All of their factories are based in what were once abandoned schools that were destined to be demolished. They repurposed the old school buildings and created local jobs in the area.
TLDR: If you like Japanese shrimp chips and other seafood snacks, then you'll fall in love with these. Even if you don't like shrimp chips, these Menbei crackers are definitely worth a try!
Take look at the amazing video below about Menbei.
Fukuoka Japan ／ MENBEI from SHUN GATE on Vimeo.
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