Rice is the staple food for over half of the world’s population. It’s probably the most important grain in terms of the nutrition it provides the human race. But it also makes a darn good snack, and that’s important too! Here are some of my favorites.
There are so many varieties, so many flavors, shapes, and textures. The round disk kind are the classic senbei and gives me the kind of crunch I like the best. Sometimes you have to have good teeth though, because these guys can get pretty hard. It’s my addiction to soy sauce that gets satisfied when I bite into one of these.
Senbei is basically grilled, baked or fried rice cakes that have been flavored with soy sauce or any number of ingredients. The nori wrapped ones are also popular; I love how the nori gives it an added dimension and a “leave behind” texture as you chew the sheet of seaweed.
The smaller bits are known as arare, which comes from the Japanese word for hailstones. These make pretty good beer chasers, although I don’t think they’ll ever replace peanuts. Hawaiian locals discovered how to mix them with popcorn and call it “Hurricane Popcorn”. I like the ones called Kaki no Tane, which means persimmon seeds because of the resemblance. They’re usually spicy and mixed with peanuts.
The lightly colored ones are made from a different (glutinous) kind of rice, which gives it a softer crunch; not a crack! but more of a scrunch! I love these for variety–they’re usually salted vs. coated with soy sauce.
From hard and crispy and savory to soft and sticky and sweet! Japanese mochi is so good, you can fill it with anything from adzuki red bean paste (traditional) to ice cream. They come in all kinds of shapes, and the fancy ones can get pretty pricey. Despite all the modern styles though, mochi is still one of the traditional Japanese desserts that has been been around for centuries. It’s still one of the best companions to green tea ever, IMHO.
Koreans also like their mochi, but theirs (called duk) is a bit firmer and less sweet. You can buy the kind filled with a brown sugar syrup at the Korean markets, often coated with a sesame oil to keep them from sticking together. Japanese dust theirs with flour to serve the same purpose.
Chinese Rice Cake
Also known as Pak Tong Koh, this is my go-to dessert when I’m having Dim Sum. Usually diamond-shaped or triangular, the light sweetness is perfect after several rounds of steamy dim sum. It reminds me of mochi, but not quite. It’s more gelatinous and translucent, as if I’m eating rice pudding in solid form. I usually eat one piece at the restaurant and bring the rest home.
Crispy Rice Snacks
We can’t talk about rice snacks without mentioning this all-time, All-American snack, can we? These simple marshmallow infused, crisped rice treats will never grow old. Why? Because adults don’t want to grow old, and when we see our kids scarfing these treats, we want to feel like them! Rumor has it that when working on the original recipe, molasses was used; but it was soon discovered that marshmallows were less messy. Brilliant move!
For all you malahinis out there, if you don’t know what Butter Mochi is, it’s exactly what it sounds like. The base is mochiko, sweet rice flour, and with the addition of butter and sugar, you’re basically making baked custard. It’s a bit dense, because it is mochi after all, but the semi-chewy texture and richness of flavor is so ono! Zojirushi has their own version that you can find here.
Gelato di riso, or Rice Gelato. The perfect blend of a not too sweet rice pudding that’s icy cold! This is good stuff indeed; this dessert still gives you the creaminess of ice cream, but adds that extra dimension of texture with the bits of rice. Go Italy! go Gelato! Delizioso! I found a nice recipe on the Zojirushi site here.
The Mexican version of this dessert drink is made with sweetened rice and cinnamon. In various Latin American countries, they use ground seeds or nuts instead, and there are alcoholic versions as well, made with fermented corn flour. My daughter loves the horchata that we can get at the local Mexican restaurants near where we live. And it’s a great alternative for the lactose intolerant too!
So after compiling all these rice snacks that I’m personally fond of, I got to thinking that I just traveled around the world just on rice! I went to Japan, Korea, China, Hawaii, Italy and Mexico! No wonder rice feeds over half the world’s population!
Picture credits: simply mochi, Jennifer Zhang, Shelley Opunui, meals.com, Zojirushi and Bert Tanimoto