“Onigiri”, the Japanese rice ball snowballs

“Onigiri”, the Japanese rice ball snowballs

In a quiet neighborhood of Tokyo, around fifty people wait in front of the still-drawn curtain of a small “onigiri” restaurant, the Japanese rice ball whose popularity has exploded in recent years in Japan and abroad, fueled by social networks and inflation.

Behind the counter of Onigiri Bongo, where nine customers can sit, Yumiko Ukon, 71, prepares with her team the multicolored ingredients which will be used to garnish around sixty varieties of rice balls wrapped in seaweed, traditional bitter plums. to the more unusual bacon-soy sauce.

Formerly, “there was no one between lunch and dinner, but now customers queue continuously“, sometimes for eight hours, explains the owner of the place where some 1,200 onigiri are sold per day.

I’ve been doing the same thing for 47 years, nothing has changed for me. It’s the world around that has changed“, she says, while this dish traditionally prepared “at home” has become a dish that we buy and eat alone.

Onigiri has been consumed in Japan for more than 1,000 years, once carried by samurai on the battlefields. But for several decades it had suffered from the image of a banal and cheap product, sold in the omnipresent convenience stores in Japan.

However, success has been there for several years, supported first by the explosion of tourism in Japan before the pandemic and its presentation in various television shows and series.

Japan and rice

The inclusion in the Michelin guide in 2019 of Tokyo’s oldest onigiri restaurant, “Onigiri Asakusa Yadoroku”, was also decisive, explains Yusuke Nakamura, president of the Japanese Onigiri Association.

From that moment on, people who considered onigiri as an everyday snack also began to see it as a quality dish, thus broadening the ways of consuming it.“, he said.

According to the Japanese Prepared Food Federation, onigiri came in second place in the ranking of these purchases in Japan in 2022, and spending by Japanese households in the “onigiri and other” category has jumped 66% over the last twenty years. ‘after the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

According to Mr. Nakamura, the number of specialized shops is increasing sharply in Japan, where onigiri has benefited from the explosion in demand for takeout meals during the pandemic, but also from the acceleration of inflation in the country for two years.

The price of rice, grown locally, is relatively stable“, while the cost of wheat imports has soared since the start of the war in Ukraine, making many foods including bread more expensive, he explains.

In addition, the Japanese connection with onigiri and rice in general is very deep and old, recalls Miki Yamada, 48, manager of “Warai Musubi”, a catering service for “omusubi”, another name for onigiri. .

Rice is the offering we make to the deities“in the Shinto religion, and”the often triangular shape of the omusubi would refer to the mountains“, where many Shinto deities reside, she explains.

Coming from a family of rice farmers in Fukushima, Ms. Yamada says she realized the potential of onigiri while trying to promote local rice, whose reputation suffered after the 2011 nuclear disaster, and her photogenic dumplings are very liked on Instagram.

NO to diets, YES to WW!

“Instagrammable” rice balls

While onigiri shops generally have little means of advertising them, the photos posted by customers on social networks of onigiri of all shapes and colors, eminently “instagrammables“, played a big role in the popularity of these dishes, underlines Yusuke Nakamura.

Thus, onigiri also reaches a younger and more feminine clientele, attracted by “premium” versions with quality ingredients, or mixing cereals with rice for a more nutritious diet.

In Japan, but also abroad, I would like to renew the old image of rice“, says Miyuki Kawarada, 27, president of Taro Tokyo Onigiri, a company that opened two stores in Tokyo in 2022, where high-end onigiri are sold for up to 430 yen (2.7 euros) each.

She says she wants to open several dozen restaurants in the coming years abroad, where she believes onigiri has the potential to dethrone sushi as the ambassador of Japanese gastronomy. Moreover, he “can be vegan or halal, and adapt to different cultures“, she notes.

Yusuke Nakamura of the onigiri association says he receives many requests from people wishing to open shops, particularly in the United States, and certain Japanese players have already started to invest in the foreign market, such as Omusubi Gonbei, who has two shops in Paris and two in New York.

In front of one of the New York stalls a stone’s throw from Grand Central Station, Sean King, 53, said he was “very happy” to be able to find the onigiri he had discovered in Japan there.

It’s light, healthy and easy to consume“, he told AFP. “We have no regrets after eating it“.

“Onigiri”, the Japanese rice ball snowballs

“Onigiri”, the Japanese rice ball snowballs

In a quiet neighborhood of Tokyo, around fifty people wait in front of the still-drawn curtain of a small “onigiri” restaurant, the Japanese rice ball whose popularity has exploded in recent years in Japan and abroad, fueled by social networks and inflation.

Behind the counter of Onigiri Bongo, where nine customers can sit, Yumiko Ukon, 71, prepares with her team the multicolored ingredients which will be used to garnish around sixty varieties of rice balls wrapped in seaweed, traditional bitter plums. to the more unusual bacon-soy sauce.

Formerly, “there was no one between lunch and dinner, but now customers queue continuously“, sometimes for eight hours, explains the owner of the place where some 1,200 onigiri are sold per day.

I’ve been doing the same thing for 47 years, nothing has changed for me. It’s the world around that has changed“, she says, while this dish traditionally prepared “at home” has become a dish that we buy and eat alone.

Onigiri has been consumed in Japan for more than 1,000 years, once carried by samurai on the battlefields. But for several decades it had suffered from the image of a banal and cheap product, sold in the omnipresent convenience stores in Japan.

However, success has been there for several years, supported first by the explosion of tourism in Japan before the pandemic and its presentation in various television shows and series.

Japan and rice

The inclusion in the Michelin guide in 2019 of Tokyo’s oldest onigiri restaurant, “Onigiri Asakusa Yadoroku”, was also decisive, explains Yusuke Nakamura, president of the Japanese Onigiri Association.

From that moment on, people who considered onigiri as an everyday snack also began to see it as a quality dish, thus broadening the ways of consuming it.“, he said.

According to the Japanese Prepared Food Federation, onigiri came in second place in the ranking of these purchases in Japan in 2022, and spending by Japanese households in the “onigiri and other” category has jumped 66% over the last twenty years. ‘after the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

According to Mr. Nakamura, the number of specialized shops is increasing sharply in Japan, where onigiri has benefited from the explosion in demand for takeout meals during the pandemic, but also from the acceleration of inflation in the country for two years.

The price of rice, grown locally, is relatively stable“, while the cost of wheat imports has soared since the start of the war in Ukraine, making many foods including bread more expensive, he explains.

In addition, the Japanese connection with onigiri and rice in general is very deep and old, recalls Miki Yamada, 48, manager of “Warai Musubi”, a catering service for “omusubi”, another name for onigiri. .

Rice is the offering we make to the deities“in the Shinto religion, and”the often triangular shape of the omusubi would refer to the mountains“, where many Shinto deities reside, she explains.

Coming from a family of rice farmers in Fukushima, Ms. Yamada says she realized the potential of onigiri while trying to promote local rice, whose reputation suffered after the 2011 nuclear disaster, and her photogenic dumplings are very liked on Instagram.

NO to diets, YES to WW!

“Instagrammable” rice balls

While onigiri shops generally have little means of advertising them, the photos posted by customers on social networks of onigiri of all shapes and colors, eminently “instagrammables“, played a big role in the popularity of these dishes, underlines Yusuke Nakamura.

Thus, onigiri also reaches a younger and more feminine clientele, attracted by “premium” versions with quality ingredients, or mixing cereals with rice for a more nutritious diet.

In Japan, but also abroad, I would like to renew the old image of rice“, says Miyuki Kawarada, 27, president of Taro Tokyo Onigiri, a company that opened two stores in Tokyo in 2022, where high-end onigiri are sold for up to 430 yen (2.7 euros) each.

She says she wants to open several dozen restaurants in the coming years abroad, where she believes onigiri has the potential to dethrone sushi as the ambassador of Japanese gastronomy. Moreover, he “can be vegan or halal, and adapt to different cultures“, she notes.

Yusuke Nakamura of the onigiri association says he receives many requests from people wishing to open shops, particularly in the United States, and certain Japanese players have already started to invest in the foreign market, such as Omusubi Gonbei, who has two shops in Paris and two in New York.

In front of one of the New York stalls a stone’s throw from Grand Central Station, Sean King, 53, said he was “very happy” to be able to find the onigiri he had discovered in Japan there.

It’s light, healthy and easy to consume“, he told AFP. “We have no regrets after eating it“.