We also tell you where to buy them on the cheap.

Senbei, or Japanese rice crackers, make a gratifying snack for any time of day with their lightness, crispiness and endless flavours.

Most of us are familiar with the ubiquitous twin packets from Taiwanese brand Wang Wang, but those are a far cry from the real deal—senbei freshly grilled with no preservatives, sold at yatai (food carts or stands) on the streets of Japan.

The next best thing—though still an inferior option—is to indulge in factory-produced senbei from Japanese brands, which is what we did. Trawling several Japanese supermarkets and minimarts in Singapore, we culled the following ten varieties for a taste test.

We found the best prices at:
Meidi-Ya. #B1-50 Liang Court, 177 River Valley Road. Tel: 6339 1111
Midtown Mart. #03-130A Marina Square, 6 Raffles Boulevard. Tel: 6255 0958
J-Mart. #B1-28 The Star Vista, 1 Vista Exchange Green. Tel: 6694 3228

ECHIGO Umai Katayaki

Flavour: soy sauce

Get it at: Meidi-Ya, $3.45

How it fared: This tawny version supposedly emulates katayaki, a hard cake that’s sometimes shattered with a wooden mallet before eating. The flavour is very “vanilla”—basic soy sauce seasoning that’s a little flat. Which is unfortunate because these shards come in fairly large packets that we find hard to finish.

Verdict: Disappointing flavour that fails to live up to the enticing packaging.

Score: 6.5/10

KINGODO Black Pepper

Flavour: black pepper

Get it at: Meidi-Ya, $3.80

How it fared: A whiff of black pepper hits you the moment you tear this bag open. The bold flavour may not to be to everyone’s liking, but we like how unabashed it is. Each thin, modestly sized disc is evenly dusted and delightfully piquant. Count us addicted.

Verdict: A terrific pepper punch balanced with earthy rice and salty seasoning.

Score: 8/10


Flavour: fried shrimp

Get it at: Meidi-Ya, $3.90

How it fared: These ruptured concave discs have a lovely melting texture (with just a touch of disagreeable gumminess). The seasoning reliably banks on crustacean flavouring, enhanced with spikes of saltiness. Not the best example of senbei, but a tasty snack nonetheless.

Verdict: More prawn cracker than senbei, but worth your time and dime.

Score: 7/10

SANKO Cheese Kibun

Flavour: cheese

Get it at: Meidi-Ya, $3.80

How it fared: Ah, that familiar radioactive orange colouration of Cheetos, Cheezels and other processed cheesy snacks. We should know better… but we don’t, and succumb helplessly. These flat discs boast a robust blend of cheese and soy sauce that may seem a little unusual at first. We also like the clean snap and slightly honeyed texture.

Verdict: If you have a weakness for processed cheese, definitely give this one a try.

Score: 7.5/10


Flavour: wasabi

Get it at: J-Mart, $4.30

How it fared: While the seasoning is pleasant—salty with a teeny hint of wasabi—the cracker beneath is not. Its tough texture makes it seem stale, which isn’t helped by the hollow flavour and extra-gummy finish.

Verdict: Not enough wasabi kick to make this worth trying.

Score: 5.5/10

HONDA Negi Miso [BiTES Choice]

Flavour: miso & spring onion

Get it at: Meidi-Ya, $3.55

How it fared: Miso soup in a cracker, anybody? Each bite gleans a generous dose of umami courtesy of the miso-infused soy sauce, which also produces dark stains along the faultlines of the crackers. The texture is melting and crispy, and the flecks of spring onion put a nice finishing touch.

Verdict: A winner imbued with deep colour and deep flavour.

Score: 8.5/10


Flavour: ume (plum)

Get it at: Midtown Mart, $3.90

How it fared: These supersized 3.5-inch rounds with a tint of pretty pink look better than they taste. The bulk of the cracker has the mouthfeel of styrofoam and is fairly flavourless, a quality that the seasoning is unable to mask. We liked the blend of savoury, sweet and sour, but would have liked more than just a trace of ume.

Verdict: The worst of the lot we tasted.

Score: 5/10

SANKO Niigata Jikomi Nori Shio

Flavour: seaweed & salt

Get it at: Meidi-Ya, $3.55

How it fared: Seaweed and salt is a possibly delicious combination but that potential isn’t fulfilled here. These thin, flat and bubbly circles contain bursts of salt but not the joys of seaweed, and the rice tastes slightly burnt and artificial. Having said that, the cracker’s pretty nice if you chomp away at it mindlessly.

Verdict: A little too much shio and not enough nori.

Score: 6/10

ECHIGO Shichimi

Flavour: shichimi togarashi

Get it at: Midtown Mart, $4.80

How it fared: Typically used as a condiment on soups and noodles, shichimi togarashi (“seven-flavour chilli pepper”) is a Japanese seven-spice powder comprising chilli, sansho, chenpi (roasted orange peel), sesame, ginger, nori and poppy seeds—the exact recipe varies. Unfortunately this senbei smacks of chilli heat and little else. Great for the masochistic who enjoy a jawbreaking bite and a burn on the lips.

Verdict: Tastes more like ichimi togarashi (“one-flavour chilli pepper”).

Score: 6/10

KAMEDA Waza no Koda Wari Age

Flavour: soy sauce

Get it at: Meidi-Ya, $4.50

How it fared: Laced with caramel and sweet rice wine, this “skillfully fried” senbei elevates the elementary soy sauce flavour and turns it into something more complex. The thick chunks of blackened rice cakes hook you with sweetness and saltiness. You won’t be able to stop at one.

Verdict: This bag was the first to be emptied at our office.

Score: 8/10