These Japanese senbei may be the hardest-to-eat snacks in the world, literally.

Japanese rice crackers, or senbei, are snacks that are loved throughout the country. One of the joys of senbei is the exhaustive amount of flavours you can enjoy. From classics like soy sauce and shrimp, to more… acquired tastes, senbei are popular with humans and animals alike.

Our Japanese-language reporter Masami is also a fan of senbei, and has been since childhood. A native of Kyushu’s Fukuoka Prefecture, Masami has a particularly vivid memory of her first encounter with a certain kind of senbei.

“I remember the first time I saw it. I was still in elementary school at the time. I’d come home from school one day and saw something that looked like a cookie on the table. Was it a leftover snack that my parents were planning to eat? Was it there for me? Either way, I’d already decided I was going to eat it. And as I eagerly sunk my teeth into it, for a fleeting moment I thought my teeth were genuinely going to fall out.”

The ‘it’ Masami is referring to is Katapan (“Rock-Hard Bread”), a type of senbei from Kita-Kyushu, a city in Fukuoka Prefecture.

▼ In the red corner, it’s Kita-kyushu’s Katapan (280 yen [US$2.60])

While you may not think that referring to a snack as ‘rock-hard’ would be a selling point, Katapan is not the only tough cookie on the market. Hailing from Mie Prefecture, “Katayaki Senbei” (‘Fried Rock-Hard Rice Crackers’) are also pretty tough to swallow.

▼ In the blue corner, it’s Mie Prefecture’s Katayaki Senbei (540 yen [US$5.20])

In fact, Katayaki Senbei are so tough that they even come with a mallet to break up the cracker into eatable chunks. That’s pretty hard!

Katayaki Senbei are more specifically from Mie Prefecture’s Iga City, which you may recognise as the ‘Ninja City‘, due to it being the birthplace of the famous Iga ninja. In fact, Katayaki Senbei are also sometimes referred to as ‘ninja rice crackers‘. Allegedly, the crackers are based on the ones the Iga ninja used to carry around with them for emergency rations.

▼ It could possibly double up as a makeshift throwing star, too.

The ingredients for both Katayaki Senbei and Katapan are similar, mostly wheat, flour and sugar, and both proudly boast of how tough they are to eat, but which cracker could rightfully claim the title of Ultimate Tough Cookie?

Masami decided to pit the two crackers against each other to see who would emerge victorious. To make it a fair fight, she used the mallet to break up both crackers, not just the Katayaki Senbei.

First up was the Katapan. Masami was of course familiar with this cracker, but this was the first time she’d be eating it using a mallet. The cracker was rock-hard, just like she remembered. When she smashed it with a hammer, the Katapan broke apart neatly into four sections, perfectly sized. “Huh. There’s something to this mallet malarkey after all,” she mused.

Masami popped a shard into her mouth, and could hear what could only be described as a grating sound, like metal scraping against metal. It definitely wasn’t a chewing sound. But the cracker tasted a little sweet, probably because one of the ingredients is condensed milk. The cracker was hard, but tasty!

Next up was the Katayaki Senbei. This was new territory for Masami, and as she picked up the cracker, it felt… lighter? Was this going to be less tough?

However, she knew better than to just chomp down; she wasn’t planning on losing any teeth any time soon. Using the trusty mallet, Masami smashed the cracker into pieces. The taste was simple, but delicious, with the green seaweed on the top working well with the cracker.

▼ Katapan (left) and Katayaki Senbei (right)

Both crackers were delicious and certainly not for those with wobbly teeth, but in the end, Masami declared her hometown favourite Katapan as the victor. Why? Both crackers were tough as nails, but Katapan was a little thicker than Katayaki Senbei, giving it the edge.

▼ Both crackers fought bravely, but Katapan (left) was declared victorious

So Katapan and Katayaki Senbei join the elite ranks of unforgiving yet delicious cuisine, right up there with fried piranha and the deadliest of all Japanese dishes, mochi. Think we’ll just stick to good old McDonalds for the time being…

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