Japanese Cooking 101, Lesson 5 extra: Fish bone crackers (hone-senbei) with shoestring potatoes


There's no need to throw away the bits of fish that you cut off when you filet them and so forth. Fish bones and heads can be kept for making soup. Or, if the bones are tender enough they can be made into delicious fish-bone crackers.

At the sushi restaurant in New York I worked at many years ago, the chefs used to serve these as extra treats to customers who sat at the counter. One of those was a lovely little girl, who used to come regularly with her father. She just loved those fish bone crackers. One year the chefs made a big batch of them and gave her a takeout box full for her birthday. She was so happy I thought her eyes were going to pop out of her head.

I've paired these with shoestring potatoes, which taste surprisingly sweet next to the umami-rich fish bones. The type of potato is important - choose a nice firm waxy type, not a floury type like Idaho baking potatoes. Alternatively you can use sweet potatoes.

Recipe: Fish bone crackers (hone-senbei 骨煎餅) with shoestring potatoes

A frugal way to deal with the bones taken out of small fish like sardines. Tip: Always fry the potatoes before you fry the bones, or the potatoes will take on the flavor of the fish.

Prep time: 15 min :: Cook time: 10 min :: Total time: 25 min

Yield: 2 servings


  • 16 to 20 fish bones from fresh sardines
  • 2 Yukon Gold or Bintje potatoes, or similar firm potatoes, medium sized
  • salt, to taste
  • flour or cornstarch, to dust the fish bones
  • oil, for frying


  1. These are the fish bones taken out of the fish. Wash them off, and pat them dry with paper towel. Leave to dry out a bit on a plate for an hour. (Do this in the refrigerator if the weather is hot, or if you have some feline overlords about.)
  2. Peel the potatoes and cut them into small matchsticks. Rinse them and then pat them dry, and leave on a sieve to dry out some more until you're ready to fry everything.
  3. When you are ready to cook and while the oil is heating up, coat the fish lightly with flour or cornstarch.
  4. Heat up some oil for frying. Heat the oil to a low cooking heat, about 170°C / 340°F (see this for how to gauge frying oil temperature with wooden chopsticks). Fry the potatoes until cooked but not browning yet. Take them out and drain.
  5. Heat up the oil until it reaches the high range, about 180°C / 355°F. Put in the pre-cooked potatoes and fry until a golden brown. Take out and drain.
  6. Put the fish bones in and fry until golden brown and crispy. Take out and drain.
  7. Lightly salt the fish and the potatoes. Serve as a snack or appetizer. It goes very well with beer.

(Below is for search engine purposes)

By Makiko Itoh

Published: April 26, 2013

Type: Japanese, fish, washoku, appetizer


Thanks for posting this recipe! On a trip to Japan earlier this year, I went to a pub near Haneda Airport and the cook gave me a complimentary plate of hone senbei. Either to thank me as a lone tourist taking a gamble on his place, or to see what the tourist thinks of a plate of bones, I'm not sure :) But now I know how to make them for myself. Thank you!

Talk about Japanese soul food! Now this is an interesting recipe....

I love the "feline overlords" comment. Our tabby, Jamhal, is always on the lookout for any treat he can sneak. The black and white (Totoro-shaped) Suki sits staring at him, cheering him on, as he sneaks anything from just about anywhere.

I have to keep things like this in the closed (off) oven.


Fish bone crackers? Definitely new to me. But those potatoes and fish bone crackers would be good with a mayo dip. Yummy.

Great share. Looks very delicious recipe. I think children will love this one. It is like we are recycling food as usually we do not eat fish bones.

If your kids are old enough, consider getting them to help out with the hand-processing of the fish! It's a great way to get them to learn what fish is really like. ^_^

This recipe sounds unusual, but it looks interesting.

This is something we can get at Japanese restaurants (even in the US) when we have Aji Tataki (chopped Aji sashimi). The tataki will be served along with the head, bone and tail, but they will cook the bone after you are done with the tataki part and serve the deep-fried bone with lemon (or lime).
I have seen Anthony Bourdain was enjoying this dish at a Japanese restaurant in Ohio on a TV program "No Reservation".

If you get a response like "What the hell are you talking about?" when you ask for fried fish bone, well, then the restaurant could be one that does not have any clue about Japanese food.

In Spain we eat something similar but with a little more fish on the bone, "boquerones fritos" you deep fry teh whole little fish and then eat it bones and all!
anyway this recipe looks nice to will give it a go sometime :)

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