SAPPORO – A shop in Sapporo aims to crack an overseas market this fall with its hand-grilled senbei rice crackers made entirely from rice grown in Hokkaido.
Samurai Senbei has gained a strong local following since it opened in January and its 39-year-old founder is confident they are ready to win new customers abroad.
“We want the world to know how tasty Hokkaido rice is,” said Masahiro Sampei.
Samurai Senbei’s rice crackers have already proved popular at food exhibitions in Malaysia and Hong Kong.
This fall, it will start selling in Chicago followed by New York.
The shop uses three different brands of rice produced in Hokkaido — Yumepirica for hard-baked senbei, Fukkurinko for thin senbei and Oborozuki for crunchy senbei.
The rice crackers come in some 20 different flavors, ranging from senbei standards such as soy sauce and wasabi to offbeat tastes including chamomile, truffle with salt and a soy sauce-balsamic vinegar combination.
The senbei start at ¥120 per piece.
With a senbei shop on his mother’s side of the family for five decades, as a child Sampei remembers watching her make rice crackers for Kamata Seika, a long-established store in Sapporo.
He came up with the idea of using Hokkaido rice to make senbei about four years ago, but soon discovered why no one had done so before.
Senbei makers favor more affordable rice for senbei, as using high-quality rice pushes up production costs.
He contacted countless factories, but they all refused to manufacture rice cracker dough using Hokkaido rice, saying it was “unprofitable.”
But two companies in Yamagata Prefecture finally agreed to join hands with Sampei, apparently giving in to his irrepressible enthusiasm.
“The quality of Hokkaido rice is top class,” Sampei said, “and I think senbei made from it should be a success anywhere.”
Hokkaido’s self-appointed senbei salesman to the world is about to put his convictions to the test.
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