Senbei are glazed crispy rice crackers that are generally bite size. They are usually purchased packaged, and come in a wide varieties of flavors, colors, and shapes. This snack is frequently eaten alongside green tea, and are also sometimes called Japanese crackers. A common alternate spelling to senbei is sembai. These cracker snacks are one of several varieties of snacks traditionally served with tea in Japan.
A popular food in Japanese culture for centuries, senbei is one of several types of rice crackers that serve as a traditional snack in Japan. These snacks can be generally categorized by flavor and texture. Categories of this type of rice cracker include kansai and kanto senbei. Kansai and kanto are made out of different types of rice. Kansai is generally lighter in flavor and less dense than kanto crackers.
Aside from rice flour and all-purpose wheat flour, ingredients in the cracker portion of the senbei include oil, water, and salt. Added baking powder and baking soda give lightness and fluffiness to the rice flour senbei. Usually, senbai are made by frying, baking, or grilling rice-based cracker dough pieces. Historically, the crackers were grilled over charcoal.
The coating on the cracker portion of this snack often determines its dominant flavor. The most common coating to senbei is seaweed, but they can also be flavored with things like nutty sesame or hot spices.
Since it is basically a flat rice cracker, a senbei can be many different things, as long as it is still a rice cracker. There are sweet and candied varieties of cracker in addition to the common lightly glazed and spicy crackers. They can be colored naturally by the rice used to make them, or they can be dyed a wide variety of bright colors to add festive flair. Senbei is one of many snacks served with tea in Japan. Another popular tea snack, the wagashi, is a chewy and sweet confection that is often shaped like a flower.
Other types of rice crackers are identified by their coating, and whether they are sweet, spicy, or candied. Other types of rice crackers eaten in Japan include arare and okaki. Arare is a sweet or salty round cracker that is similar in shape to a river pebble. Okaki are browned slices of mochi, a sweet japanese rice cake.