Japanese Rice Crackers: The Originator of Fortune Cookies and Kyoto's Famous Inari Senbei

Kansai Food Kyoto 2019.03.26
When visiting Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto there are a lot of shops and stands along the way to the shrine. There is one store that is worth stopping by and it is famous for Japanese rice crackers. The rice crackers you'll find aren't your regular senbei or karinto. Matsuya (おせんの里松屋) is famous for their fox shaped rice crackers as well as a certain cracker, or "cookie", that we weren't expecting.

🥠Japanese Fortune Cookies🥠

Almost every American knows about fortune cookies, and some people know that despite getting it when you order Chinese takeaway, they're an American creation....or so we thought. The storekeeper told us the Chinese American who made the fortune cookie big in America got the idea after his trip to Japan. The man came to visit and during his stay he stopped by Matsuya where he got a fortune cookie, loved the idea, and took it back with him to America.

Called "tsujiura senbei" (辻占せんべい) in Japanese, they are connected to a shrines tradition of getting fortunes, or "omikuji" (おみくじ). While they have been in Japan for many years, it is reported that this store in Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine started the fortune cookie. The fortunes inside are less simple like you would get at a Chinese restaurant, and more similar to a Japanese shrine omikuji. The taste of these fortune cookies are also way better in our opinion. Instead of having a strong, artificial vanilla taste, the fortune cookies at Matsuya use less sugar and are true to the Japanese senbei taste of miso (white miso in this case) and sesame.

🥠Kyoto's Famous Inari Rice Cracker🥠

Their fortune cookies aren't the only thing to be interested in though. The predecessor of Matsuya went to an inari senbei (rice cracker) (稲荷せんべい) shop in Seki City, Gifu Prefecture when he was young and learned how to make "hatchu miso senbei" (Japanese rice cracker with hatcho miso glaze) (八丁味噌煎餅). This hatcho miso rice cracker is said to be the source of the inari rice cracker we know today. The predecessor took what he learned and wanted to see if it would be possible to make a rice cracker that suits Kyoto's own unique taste using a different type of miso that's popularly used in Kyoto (white miso, where Gifu uses red miso). It was after WWII that he opened up a store and said to make inari senbei a well-established confectionery of Fushimi Inari Shrine.
  • There are various types of rice crackers sold here, but their fox shaped inari rice crackers are the most popular. Each cracker is baked carefully, one by one, using a special fox face shaped iron mold. You also get to see them make these rice crackers in the storefront.
  • They also sell inari rice crackers in the shape of a baby fox mask (right). Why foxes though? Foxes or kitsune in Japanese are regarded as the messengers and in some ways protectors to the gods of Fushimi Inari Shrine. Which is why you will also see a countless number of fox statues along the shrine. 
  • These cute fox mask rice crackers have become the known souvenir from Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kyoto.
    If you decide to take a bite (we did!), you will get the delicious, sweet taste thanks to Kyoto's white miso.

🥠Historical Rice Cracker Shop🥠

This store is a great chance to both get a souvenir special to Kyoto's Fushimi Inari Shrine as well as try a traditional Japanese snack. The staff at this small, intimate store are so warm and happy, offering samples of small broken off pieces of different rice crackers they sell. So if you are looking for a something to bring back from Kyoto, we recommend checking out the inari senbei from Matsuya if you get the chance.

Matsuya (おせんの里松屋)
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