Talking Story

We were in a big wholesale to the public store, you know, the kind with the cement floors and warehouse chic décor that sells everything from light bulbs to canapés in convenient packs of 60, when my son lugged over a 20 pound bag labeled Assorted Asian Rice Crackers.

“Hey, Mom! Didn’t you buy something like this the last time we were in Hawaii?”

I looked at the product through the bag. It was a little anemic to my eye. There weren’t very many squares stained a rich, dark shoyu brown or covered with black strips of nori. The fiery red chili pepper crescents were missing from the mix and so were the iso peanuts. There were a few with sesame seeds, and something that looked like wasabi peanuts, but later turned out to be rice puffs with a little wasabi seasoning, not anything like the blow your socks off and clear your sinuses for a week snacks I ate as a kid. There was also a disturbing number of almonds and plain peanuts in the mix and something about low sodium on the label.

Back when there was a crack seed store in every town in Hawaii, rice crackers came in a dazzling variety of textures, flavors, and crunch. There was an art to mixing them, each variety hand-selected and scooped measure by measure from large glass jars into paper sacks and weighed, combining sweet, salty, spicy, nutty, and crunchy into the perfect snack blend. We called it arare, kakimochi, or mochi crunch and packed it in school lunches, on summer fun excursions, and best of all, snuck it into movie theaters to mix in the popcorn tub with M&Ms or Milk Duds. Dipping your hand in the bucket while the movie played was a treasure hunt, the flavor combinations bold and unforgettable and often more entertaining than the movie, especially if someone’s handful had too many chili pepper crescents or wasabi peas and the straw was sucking more air than soda.

I looked at the bag of watered-down, Americanized snacks and smiled. “Toss it in the cart,” I said. “I think I saw a 90 pack of microwave popcorn next to a 10 pound bag of M&Ms on aisle 7.”

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