Translated by Michiyo Nakashima
Everyone Loves Osenbei! Different Kinds of Rice Crackers
Rice is a staple food in Japan. This time get familiar with osenbei, the cracker made out of rice that is loved everywhere in Japan!
Written by MATCHA
Rice is Japanese people’s staple food. We do not only eat cooked rice but we also process rice in various ways such as with Sake, Miso, Vinegar, and Rice cake so that it gives us different kinds of flavors and tastes. From among those, I will introduce you to the most popular and common rice processing food, Osenbei, Okaki, and Arare.
What Is “Beika”?
“Beika” means rice crackers. But we don’t call rice crackers Beika. It's just a term that categorizes sweets that are made of rice. Instead, they're called Osenbei, Okaki, and Arare the differences being their shapes and ingredients.
What Are The Differences Of Those Three?
It's confusing to distinguish the differences even if you're Japanese! In fact, the differences lie in the kind of rice used to make it and its shape. Non-glutinous rice is used to make Osenbei, whereas glutinous rice is used to make Okaki. And small Okaki is called Arare.
The rice that you eat at restaurants is non-glutinous rice. Glutinous rice is used to make rice cakes because they have a springy texture.
Osenbei originated almost fourteen hundreds years ago in the Asuka period. The main seasoning of food was Sho-yu (Soy sauce) at the time. Since then, variations of cooking styles were invented such as hard-baked, lightly baked, rolled in seaweed, and ground red pepper seasoned. What’s more, there is a unique palate of texture which consists of: a wet texture from wet rice and a dry texture in crispy rice crackers can be enjoyed as a flavor called “Nure (wet) –senbei”. You will see those various flavors of Osenbei at super markets.
■My favorite Osenbei: Kingodo, Black pepper senbei, (180 Yen)
Image from the kingodo official website.
It has a dry texture with a little bit of black pepper spice.
Okaki is made from cutting the New Year’s rice-cakes called “Kagami biraki”. For New Year’s day, a large round rice cake is placed in front of the living room as an offering to God in a traditional Japanese family. After a while, the large round rice cake dries and becomes harder because it’s been put in the living room for days. Consequently, people invented a way of eating this hard rice cake by making Okaki so they don’t waste it.
Speaking of which, let me introduce the interesting background of Okaki. When making Okaki, we don’t use knives or swords to slice the round rice cake because it is considered a bad omen if you slice the offering to God into pieces. Therefore, the round rice cake is smashed with a hammer which makes inconsistant shapes of Okaki.
■My favorite Okaki: Iwazuka Seika, Niigata Nure-Okaki, (250 Yen)
Image from the Iwazuka Seika official website.HP
As introduced earlier, Nure-Okaki has a unique texture.
When roasting Arare in a big pot, it sounds like hailing, and "hail" is also pronounced as Arare in Japanese. Back in the day, Arare was served to people at the Imperial court while Okaki was enjoyed among common people. The way it was cook used to be the way to differentiate the different kinds of Okaki, but today it’s all decided by its size, which is about a half inch. (In Kansai area, people call it Okaki even if it’s Arare size so it’s different depending on the area...)
■My favorite Arare: Kirara, Cheese Arare, (140 Yen)
Image from the Kirara official website.
This Okaki has Cheddar cheese and Gouda cheese inside it. There is also one that is rolled in seaweed.
Ways to eat Osenbei
Usually each Osenbei is packaged in a small plastic bag. You can eat Osenbei as you like, but there is a controversial discussion about “what’s the best way to eat Osenbei?” among some Japanese…
 Crack it into four pieces in a plastic bag.
 Simply take a bite into the whole thing.
I personally don’t really care to be honest. But number 1 seems easier to eat and looks more elegant I guess.
Nice Refreshments With A Cup Of Tea
So, hopefully you get the differences between Osenbei, Okaki, and Arare. If you go to Asakusa or Kamakura, you will see shops that are selling lots of kinds of “Beika”. Not only there, but you will also see them everywhere such as at a convenience stores, super markets, and department stores because “Beika” is such a popular sweet in Japan. Enjoy the low-caloric healthy sweets!