The oldest shika senbei maker in the city gives us an inside look and a fresh-cooked taste.

Nara has several temples, shrines, and statues of historical significance, but arguably the biggest draw to the city is its herds of deer which freely roam its central park and streets. Though they’re wild animals, the deer are an integrated part of the community, calmly and cheerfully interacting with human locals and visitors.

The deer are such a symbol of the city that they even have their own special snack, called shika senbei (“deer crackers”). It’s said that these deer treats were first made in the early Edo period (which began in 1603). Today, there are five companies that produce them, and our Nara-based reporter, K. Masami, paid a visit to the oldest one to see how they’re made.

▼ Deer crackers

Takeda Toshio Shoten’s history doesn’t quite stretch back to the feudal era, but it can trace its roots to the early Taisho era. As a matter of fact, when Nara’s Kasuga Grand Shrine made its first official proclamation designating authorized deer cracker makers back in 1917, Takeda Toshio Shoten was listed on the parchment, so they’ve got more than a century of industry experience.

Masami was met at the door by the current owner, Takeda-san, and as soon as she stepped through the doorway she could smell the aroma of roasting crackers. Following the scent to the back of the building, they arrived in the production area.

Unlike the delicious but highly processed snacks we humans stuff ourselves with, deer crackers are made from only three basic ingredients: rice bran, wheat, and water. Right at the start, these get stirred together by a mixing machine.

Once they’re blended smoothly together, the batter is transferred to the grilling machine, where it drips into circular molds.

After the molds are filled, the line advances and a hot iron plate comes swinging down, flattening the batter out and flat-grilling the crackers.

“Would you like to try a fresh-cooked one?” Takeda asked, and Masami was initially hesitant. Deer crackers are deer snacks, not people ones, right? But then she thought about the ingredients. Rice and wheat are both edible, right? If anything, they’re healthy, and there’s no added salt, sugar, or oil to deer crackers either.

So she took a bite, and…

…it was surprisingly tasty! With no extra flavorings, she’d expected it to be bland, but the fresh-cooked deer cracker had a delicious graininess to it, plus a satisfying crunch and comforting warmth.

“And here’s a room-temperature one, for comparison,” Takeda said, handing her a second helping, and this time the sensation was far more “animal feed” than “people food.” Cooled down, the harsher notes of the flavor profile start to stand out, so if you’re going to eat a deer cracker for some reason, Masami highly recommends making it one that’s fresh off the line.

Once the crackers are cooked, the next step is packaging. They’re sold in stacks of 10, held together by a strip of paper furnished by the Nara Deer Preservation Foundation in exchange for a fee that’s used to fund deer welfare programs.

Masami noticed that each strip was sealed using a glue-like adhesive, and Takeda explained that this is a special substance that not only holds the paper together, but is also safely digestible by deer, in case they happen to bite off a piece of the wrapper.

As Masami said her goodbyes to Takeda and his staff, she couldn’t help smiling at how much care and craftsmanship goes into the deer crackers, despite the incredibly low price they sell for, and if you’d like to visit Takeda Toshio Shoten for yourself, tour reservations can be made by phone at the number listed below.

Location information
Takeda Toshio Shoten / 武田俊男商店
Address: Nara-ken, Nara-shi, Narazaka-cho 2476-2
Telephone: 0742-22-4853

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