Senbei are Japanese crackers. The archetypical senbei is a round, yellow-orange disc about 1 cm (0.4 inches) thick and 10 cm (4 inches) in diameter. It's dry, crispy, and somewhat airy. It's made by grilling crushed rice paste until it's golden-colored. Then it's seasoned with a little soy sauce and wrapped in nori (dried seaweed).

More generally, the word 'senbei' is used to refer to any type of cracker. Many people, especially older Japanese, refer to western cookies and crackers as 'senbei' as well. However, most younger Japanese restrict the use of the term 'senbei' to refer only to 'Japanese' crackers.

Senbei actually come in many different sizes, shapes, and colors. Traditionally, senbei in the Kansai area (Kyoto, Osaka) are made from wheat flour while those in the Kantou area (Tokyo, Yokohama) are made from crushed rice.

Here's a simple recipe for making your own senbei (translated from http://member.nifty.ne.jp/KIMura/tedukuri/ - there are pictures on the page):

  1. Wrap some left over steamed rice in plastic wrap and crush thoroughly until it's a paste. Spread it into a disc about a 5 mm (0.2 inches) thick and 8 cm (3 inches) in diameter.
  2. To dry the paste, remove the plastic wrap and put it onto a sheet of cooking paper. Then heat in the microwave for about 2 minutes. Flip it over and heat for another minute. If parts of the paste bubble up, let the air out by poking holes.
  3. Now for the baking. Put the dried disc on a sheet of aluminum foil. Bake in an oven until it is a light golden-brown.
  4. While the senbei is being baked, we prepare the sauce. This is easy. We just mix soy sauce and rice vinegar in a 3:1 ratio and mix thoroughly.
  5. Take the senbei out of the oven and dip it into the sauce.
  6. Now, bake again until it's a dark golden-brown.
  7. You're done!
The author of the recipe says that it's not as crispy as senbei you can buy in a store, but it's not bad. If anyone gets this to work, tell me.

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