JAPAN + SRIRACHA SENBEI, Japanese gluten-free rice crackers

I’m stalling on this post, about our trip to Japan, or more accurately, Osaka, Kyoto and Kurokawa.  This happens sometimes, either when the trip itself was too brief, or in this case, even with a sufficient duration to ponder, I find the place… difficult to compute.  Truth is, I’ve always had mixed feelings about Japan.  Mixed, but not foreign.  After all, I’m from Taiwan, hardly a stranger.  Since awareness I guess, Japan has been a place with unescapable elements everywhere deep inside its social fabrics that, to me, are both deeply seductive and also repulsive.  It’s a festival of confusions, to say the least, the reason why Lost in Translation was transcribed here, and perhaps the reason why I hesitated to come for years.  I didn’t know if I was more afraid to love it, or hate it, and either way, why did that matter?  I wasn’t sure of the answer either.  It’s a country where people pay for their dinner through vending machines, but spend hours drinking a cup of tea.  The country runs on the most highly efficient and developed system of high-speed rail that few others can compete, but the information kiosk of which, in the Osaka station, is still being organized in old-school filers.  It’s a country that is famed for its obsession in cleanliness and manners, but one of the few still left in the developed world where I have to endure second-hand smokes in restaurants.  A culture that is widely associated with its quiet, distilled form of beauty, that wabi-sabi life, and yet, the major cities within which are wild labyrinths of neon lights and carnivals of giant moving octopuses.

Slow, fast.  Quiet, loud.  Polite, yet perversive.  Allures, and frustrations.  Which one is true?  Or perhaps all is.

A country that thrives in contradictions.

I didn’t know what to make of it.  I still don’t.

I wanted to, like everyone else, just focus on its beauties, which are nothing but pure pleasures.  The yakitori (skewered/grilled chicken) in Wabiya Korekido in Kyoto comes close to an art form.  The beef heart sashimi from Maru in Osaka could not have been the revelation that it is anywhere else.  The amount of philosophy that goes into making a bowl of ramen cries for admiration.  A dip into the tinglingly warm hot spring, the liquid silk that percolates from deep within earth in the stillness that is Kurokawa, it is hard, real hard, not to fall for it all.

But with every enjoyments, comes with a blinding contradiction that seemed to overturn the previous experience.  Was my experience authentic rituals, or rehearsed theatrics.  Was this a sanctuary, or a theme park?  What the world is infatuated about Japanese’s deeply philosophical way of life, was that even a real part of their lives, or just advertisements?  Or maybe they are two of the same thing, a double-sided mirror.

I’m sure most of you don’t know what I’m talking about, a bunch of mumbo-jumbo.  I have failed to explain it, and for that I’m going to stop.

Maybe Japan was never something to be understood, but to be pondered upon.  Was never a maze, but growth-rings on a black pine trunk.

To get it, I gotta eat more ramen.


KUROKAWA ONSEN


OSAKA/KYOTO


SRIRACHA SENBEI/JAPANESE GLUTEN-FREE RICE CRACKER:

Senbei is a very traditional, very common snacks in Japan that comes in many different flavours and shapes.  They are essentially rice crackers that are toasted and puffed over grills or inside the oven.  Being made completely with rice, it is conveniently gluten-free and vegan-friendly, with a great sturdy crunch and porous interiors.  I made a little twist here, seasoning them with sriracha and sugar crystals for that perfect balance of spiciness, saltiness and sweetness.

SRIRACHA SENBEI

Yield: 12 thick senbei

Ingredients

    SENBEI DOUGH:
  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) cooked, room-temperature rice (see note)
  • 1 1/2 cup (240 grams) sticky rice flour / mochiko
  • 2 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 cup + 2 tbsp (150 grams) water
  • 1/4 cup (52 grams) vegetable oil
  • SRIRACHA GLAZE:
  • 1/4 cup (102 grams) sriracha sauce
  • 2 tbsp (37 grams) dark soy sauce
  • Enough raw sugar crystals for sprinkling

Instructions

  1. MAKE SENBEI DOUGH: Preheat the oven on 400 F/ 200 C (would be best to turn on the oven fan if available). In a food-processor, add the cooked/room-temperature rice and pulse until it's blended into a sticky blob. Add the sticky rice flour, baking powder, sea salt, water and vegetable oil, then pulse/run the processor until the mixture comes into a stiff but pliable dough. The mixture will look more crumbly in the beginning, and you may have to scrape the bowl a couple times, but it should eventually come together. If the dough has difficulty coming together after 2 min, then add JUST 1/2 TSP MORE WATER to adjust.
  2. Divide the dough into 10~12 equal sized balls. Place the ball on a parchment paper and press it down to make a small disk. Fold the parchment over to cover the disk, then roll it out into 3/8" (4 mm) thick disk. Place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet with 1" (2.5 cm) space in between. Bake ONE SHEET at a time at 400 F/ 200 C for 30 min, then lower the heat down to 300 F/ 150 C for another 10 min until the crackers are faintly colored. You can finish making the rest of the dough on a separate baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap until needed.
  3. TO GLAZE: Meanwhile, evenly mix sriracha sauce and dark soy sauce together. Once the crackers are baked, brush a thin layer of the sriracha mixture on the entire surface of the cracker, then sprinkle raw sugar crystals all over until evenly scattered. Place the glazed crackers on a baking rack over the baking sheet, then return into the oven for another 8 min, then turn them over and bake for another 4 min until the glaze has dried. Transfer to a cooling rack and repeat with the second batch. LET COOL COMPLETELY before serving.

Notes

I've tried this recipe with both cooked Thai jasmine rice, and Japanese short-grain rice. Both works fine, but I quite like the faint fragrance jasmine rice brings to the party. It's important to use ROOM-TEMPERATURE rice so that it doesn't prematurely activate the baking powder, but I wouldn't use refrigerated cooked rice that has lost its moisture.

http://ladyandpups.com/2017/01/20/japan-sriracha-senbei-japanese-gluten-free-rice-crackers/

18 Comments

  • I totally hear you on your observations about Japan. Perhaps that is what many find alluring about the country? So many mysterious connections/disconnections to explore. Either way, I so loved your photos. You have an incredible eye for photography and impeccable taste for food, as always! Thank you for this recipe. I have been trying to avoid buying packaged foods (mainly due to the waste-generation factor but also partly because of the additives) and Asian snacks, especially rice crackers, were a hard one for me to give up but now I have this! :)

  • This is so keen and honest. I feel the candor of your words, the beauty and the contradiction of Japan, so acutely in reading this. Separately, I’m knocked flat by your photography, which is spectacular beyond words — can’t even express. Just stunning. Your eye is incredible. Finally, oh my goodness, senbei!!! I once tried to make arare and failed miserably, the centers nearly broke my teeth. Can’t wait to try this and redeem myself.

  • I don’t normally comment on things, but I have to say that your photos, especially of the onsen and Kyoto, are heartbreakingly beautiful. I know how you feel about processing Japan–I’ve been struggling with it since middle school (now am a working adult) and haven’t gotten very far. Thank you for sharing your amazing photos and recipes.

  • Your photos just made me want to visit Japan in the colder times of the year. I have only been there once, in the middle of the hottest season, and your photos are such a stark contrast to what I saw. Almost feel like another place on earth completely.

  • Ohh my god, I love your talent for expressing your self, in writing, photographing and cooking! I love all of it!
    And so fantastic to see recipe for rice crackers- I have been looking for one for ages- will try it out this weekend, thank you;)

  • Hi Mandy,
    Do you think the contrast in culture is due to so called “progress”? I do. Nothing stays the same, especially the accelerated pace of the current times. So we have a juxtaposition – as you showed in your lovely photos. I wish we could all just slow down and enjoy our lives. Sadly, it can seem to be a losing battle, but I keep trying!
    I hope you are all settled in to your Hong Kong life and things are well (Shrimpy, too!).
    Laurie

  • Living in Japan for more than a year now, I feel I understand what you mean. Its beautiful beyond words (like these photos), but there’s just something there I can’t quite put my finger on. I like it for the most part but I agree with your sentiments.

    Btw, is that Eikando temple? Great photos!

  • First of all, I love senbei so it’s great to finally see an easy to follow recipe for them. Your photos are insanely gorgeous. Would you mind telling us what kind of camera and lens you use and what photo editing software you use? Your eye for light, texture, and detail is just phenomenal.

  • Wonderful thoughtful article on Japan. Your photography is so beautiful and evocative. More amazing to me is a recipe for rice crackers! Of course logically , I know it must be possible to make them.. I just never thought I could! Something for my list of things to make when I have a lazy afternoon to myself… which only ever happens in my dreams.

  • I think the contradictions arise organically out of a long-term way of life. In order to appeal to visitors, parts of this cultivation are marketed superficially when in fact they can only be truly understood by integrating day to day cultural experience…If they are not careful, they will loose the genuine cultural byproducts we all recognize as “Japan” by trying to market them apart from the lifestyle that generates them.

    I lived in Tokyo for (only) one year and the contradictions were mind-bending. An old man pushing a wooden cart with charcoal brazier full of roasted sweet potatoes in a neighborhood full of ultra modern high-rises is one of my favorite experiences! The smell of charcoal roasted sweet potatoes in a wintery city was surreal and amazing! I spent a lot of time meditating on what exactly that was all about and felt that being an outsider lent a bit of perspective that would otherwise be difficult to see, tho I’m sure it could be a lifetime of study, lol.

    Anyhoo, the food WAS amazing. I had sweet senbei with Lapsang Souchong once and it blew my mind! Really perfect together.

  • Nice photos! I particularly like the moss/lichen growing on the old wooden wall. Vistors to Japan often see the differences between old and new. I understand that it seems like contradictions, but in my view, I don’t think they are contradictions or dualities. Rather, I think this is simply the evolution of Japanese culture, which has always absorbed ideas from other cultures. The seeming adoptions of technology and more modern conveniences is part of that. What is enjoyed – and what likely seems traditional to others – is retained as well. It’s not a contradiction, but rather, a continuum — new ideas incorporated with existing ones.

    Harried office workers may grab a quick mean at the conbini, but very likely, will enjoy much slower & more complex meals over the holidays, at the family table, when there is the time and appreciation. It’s like taking a shower on the week days, but maybe enjoying the slower pace of a public bath or onsen at other times. I think we all do this everywhere in one way or another, but perhaps it just appears more distinctive in Japan.

  • Stunning photos – you have taken me straight back to Japan. And an interesting take on Japan. I used to have senbei in my lunchbox but I never knew what it was called!

  • Your insight of Japan is thoughtful. Japan is full of contradictions like several of your readers pointed out. I haven’t been to my home country for a while, but I always thought there was a superficiality of the modern Japan as opposed to the Japan I love, serene, old country houses, the gentleman selling yams or fresh tofu, the shrines alongside the roads.

    As always, your photos and the food-the FOOD!-are tempestuous as always. Thank you.

  • I am so excited to have a senbei recipe now!!!! THANK YOU!!!! I know black glutinous rice is generally less sticky than normal glutinous rice but do you think powder from the black type can be used too? I find the nutty flavour tastier =P

  • I’ve lived in Japan or the past year and a half and I have to say that you are not alone on the confusion of this country. It’s almost as if their deep and cultural traditions that we all hear about are at rub with the just as famous craziness and modernity of the big cities. Living and working here, I witness these conflicting values every single day and I’ve decided that I will probably never truly understand it!

    But there is one thing I am sure of. Your experience here was authentic. The kindness of these people, the hospitality and willingness to devote time and energy into making your experience memorable, that is all real. The Japanese people are the most generous people I have ever met and even among the craziness, loudness and exhaustion, they still manage to greet you with a genuine smile, escort you to your train platform when you are lost and wake up at 4 in the morning to make you a healthy breakfast. So, in a way, the philosophical and traditional still find their way into the hustle and bustle of the modern culture. And the mesh is confusing but beautiful.

    And I’m glad you got a chance to visit Kurokawa! I live two hours away and visit frequently for some much needed onsen. I hope you tried that famous choix cream!

    PS… Thank you for posting this senbei recipe! I haven’t gotten around to making senbei but this recipe seems easy enough!

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