The plain version of this delicious cracker is only made with three ingredients – wheat flour, water, and salt – and yet it has a depth of flavor unlike any other sweet you will ever taste. This traditional snack is originally from the Nanbu Region of Aomori, specifically in Hachinohe City. It can also be found in the northern part of the Iwate Prefecture.
The thin cracker has a unique saucer shape with a crispy outer rim called “mimi”, which means ear. The “mimi” is the part that spilled over from the mold and that's what makes it extra special. One noticeable part of Nanbu Senbei is the symbol on top of the cracker. There are two common symbols: the kikusui (floating chrysanthemum) and the sankaimatsu (three-tiered pine). These symbols are part of the tradition and date back to the time of Emperor Chokei in the late 1300s.
Grilled in a small cast-iron mold called Nanbu Tekki until crisp and light, Nanbu Senbei can be eaten on its own at meals or as a snack. It has a mild and slightly sweet and salty taste. Aside from the plain Nanbu Senbei, it also comes in a wide variety of flavors. The most popular ones are sesame seeds and peanuts. They also come in apple, pistachio, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and more.
Nanbu Senbei is the signature ingredient in Senbei-jiru, the most famous soup in the Hachinohe area. The country-style dish is made by stewing a variety of vegetables, mushrooms, chicken, fish, or crab on dashi broth. As a final touch, plain Nanbu Senbei is broken into pieces over the soup. When it mixes with the broth, it still retains its wonderful firm-to-the-bite texture.
Today, many stores sell Nanbu Senbei. They retain their freshness for a long time, so it is a perfect souvenir to bring to a loved one who's far away.