How The Onigirazu Sandwich Made A Comeback In Japan

The onigirazu has always been a pretty ingenious take on the traditional onigiri rice ball, but in 2015 it got voted as Japan’s number one food item of the year. Pretty sensational knowing that it has been a fan-favorite for more than twenty years.

It had been introduced 25 years ago by the Japanime artist Tochi Ueyama in his manga Cooking Papa. In his food manga, the main character, a dad and salary-man, likes to cook for his family.  Ueyama named this dish onigirazu and introduced it in his comic books when he saw his wife making a new style of Onigiri.

In the voting for the most popular food item, the Gurunavi Research Institute said that this particular Japanese sandwich best represented the year 2015 because it enabled many “creative and innovative” interpretations, therefore “broadening the possibilities of rice dishes at a time when people continue to shun them (due to the westernisation of Japanese cuisine).”

So What Does Onigirazu Mean?

The term onigirazu derives from what rice ball is called in Japan – Onigiri (おにぎり) or sometimes Omusubi (おむすび). Onigirazu means “no squeezing” or “no shaping”. The rice needs to be shaped into a triangle in order to make an Onigiri, but this is not required when making the sandwich.

Hence, the “razu” – which means without, or none.

The sandwich simply needs the rice plus ingredients to be placed on the seaweed, then the seaweed to be folded over it to seal it all together, making it flat and kind of like a sandwich.

The Onigirazu Boom, Explained

I like to underline that a lot of the current trends we see today are not new at all. Don’t wanna sound like a hater, but it’ true. Same goes for the onigirazu.

In the fall of 2014, the biggest Japanese recipe sharing site, Cookpad, had a feature on onigirazu recipes.  Ever since then, the Japanese sandwich revived and quickly became a popular search word, which is how popularity is measured these days, of course. 

But no matter the hype, you can’t really hate on the fact that it’s really easy to make, looks super-cool, AND, unlike regular onigiri, the fillings are evenly distributed so you’re guaranteed to get a hit of both filling and rice with every bite! How’s that for a viral food item?

But I would do you guys a huge disfavor if I didn’t take you through some of its delicious variants, wouldn’t I?

Popular Variants

  • Umeboshi (Pickled Plum)
  • Shake (Grilled Salmon)
  • Kombu (Sea Weed)

What Now?

Interesting that you asked. The Japanese sandwich is moving fast right now, from an online sensation straight into mainstream culinary culture. Even convenience store chains are starting to make their own lines. Some nori manufacturers want in on the action, offering squares of seaweed specially designed and flavored for onigirazu.

But no one can really tell how far it can go. Whether it becomes the next big Japanese food trend overseas or not, as long as people keeps on creating and sharing recipes, the onigirazu will certainly find its place on tables and lunch boxes throughout Japan.

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