Hachinohe Senbei Jiru: Let’s Try Local Rice Cracker Cuisines of Aomori
As we have introduced in our previous article titled “Know Your Rice Cracker”, senbei is a very popular snack in Japan and it is made from rice. It is mainly consumed as a snack, but there are other ways to eat them. Each region of Japan has local senbei with a long history, and they are very distinctive.
“Hachinohe senbei jiru” we introduce this time contains senbei whose main ingredient is flour not rice. It is a very unique local senbei loved in the region since the old days not as snack but as a part of meal.
What is Hachinohe Senbei Jiru Like?
Senbei jiru is a local cuisine in the Hachinohe region; “shiru (jiru)” or broth is prepared with meat, fish or vegetable, and cracked “Nanbu senbei (aka otsuyu senbei)” is added and boiled in it. The Hachinohe region is around today’s Hachinohe City, Aomori Prefecture, and it consists of the Nanbu area of Aomori Prefecture and the northern part of Iwate Prefecture. It refers to the Hachinohe Domain where the Nanbu clan once governed as the Lord. Senbei jiru is believed to have been first created in the Nanbu Domain during the latter half of the Edo period, and it has been enjoyed to date in the Hachinohe region for over 200 years.
What is Nanbu Senbei?
The main ingredient of Nanbu seibei is flour, in contrast to many other senbei that is made from rice. Nanbu senbei is made by kneading flour with water into dough, putting it into a round mold, and baking it hard. Its characteristic is the existence of thin crispy crust surrounding it, called “mimi” which translates to “ear”. When it is eaten as a snack, it may contain sesame seeds, walnuts, or peanuts. There is also the “ame sen” contains syrup sandwiched between plain senbei. Nanbu senbei we introduce this time as an ingredient of the senbei jiru, is called “otsuyu senbei”, and it is plain senbei made from flour with salt.
Ingredients and Flavors of Hachinohe Senbei Jiru
Ingredients and methods of seasoning for the senbei jiru vary widely, from family to family or depending on restaurants. We will introduce three common types in the following.
1. Chicken & Soy Sauce Based Flavor
This is the most popular combination. It is made by putting vegetables, mushrooms, konnyaku noodles, and green onions into chicken broth, adding cracked senbei, and the soup is seasoned with soy sauce. Sometimes duck or pork may replace chicken.
2. Fish & Salt Based Flavor
This type takes advantage of the rich seafood available in the Hachinohe region. Vegetables and cracked senbei are added to the seafood-based soup. Cod, crab or grilled mackerel are common ingredients; however, homemade senbei jiru may often contain canned mackerel, too.
3. Horsemeat & Miso Based Flavor
The Hachinohe region produces horsemeat, and horsemeat hotpot (aka “sakura nabe”) is a very popular food in this area. After eating miso-flavored ingredients in the horsemeat hotpot, people add cracked senbei and eat it as a final dish to the meal. This custom is not limited to the horsemeat hotpot; people may put the senbei into various other hotpot cuisines, including sukiyaki, chowder, etc. to make the final dish of the meal
Let’s Go to Eat Hachinohe Senbei Jiru
It appears the Hachinohe region has more than 200 establishments where you can eat Hachinohe senbei jiru. Among them, I visited “Yakudake” this time, a restaurant in “Hasshoku Center” market, which is about 10 minutes away by car from the JR Hachinohe Station.
You can go back and forth between the Hachinohe Station and the Hasshoku Center by a blue-bodied local bus. Its one-way fare is ￥100, so it is called as “100 yen bus”. A red-bodied, “less than ￥200 bus” is operated between the Hachinohe City center and the Hasshoku Center, and you can ride it paying a fare between ￥150 and ￥200, depending on the bus stops you use.
Sixty-four stores are within the center, selling Hachinohe specialty food such as fresh fish, produces, sweets, dried foods, meats, and miscellaneous goods and there are restaurants, too. When you go toward the north exit in the large market, the “Yakudake” is in front of a resting area called the north plaza.
In “Yakudake” there was a “Shiru” Meister who was certified by the Hachinohe Senbeijiru Laboratory. In this restaurant, you can enjoy Hachinohe senbei jiru at a very reasonable price of ￥250 a bowl. We looked at several places that offered senbei jiru later on, but the price tended to be about ￥500 in most places. In Yakudake, the senbei jiru was a light tasting soy sauce-flavored soup with plenty of ingredients including root vegetables.
This is a set meal that consists of grilled salted mackerel, which is caught off the Hachinohe shore, and shiokara (pickled seafood paste), rice, with Hachinohe senbei jiru. We enjoyed a lavish brunch at a table in front of the restaurant, adding other dishes of fresh fish and pickled vegetables purchased at other stores in the market to the set meal.
22-2 Kawaragi Aza Kansai, Hachinohe City, Aomori Prefecture
Open: 9 AM to 6 PM
Closed: Every Wednesday
In the Hasshoku Center
Open: 9 AM to 6 PM
Closed: Every Wednesday
According to the Hachinohe Senbeijiru Laboratory, the best condition to enjoy the Hachinohe senbei jiru is when the flavors of the soup seep into the crispy hard senbei yet maintains an appropriately firm texture, like “al dente” pasta.
When you visit the Hachinohe region, please try this unique local cuisine, “Hachinohe senbei jiru”.
Know your Rice Cracker: Shape, Flavor, and Ingredients