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. Something pretty sensational knowing that it has been a fan-favorite for more than twenty years.
It was 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 westernization 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 disfavour if I didn’t take you through some of its delicious variants, wouldn’t I?
Umeboshi (Pickled Plum)
Shake (Grilled Salmon)
Kombu (Sea Weed)
How To Make The Perfect Onigirazu
For onigiri to turn into onigirazu, a square of seafood is layered with warm rice and unconventional fillings like ham, cheese with egg, tuna salad, fried chicken, or some left-over stir-fry. Ketchup and mayonnaise are common condiments used as spreads; greens such as lettuce form demarcations in the layers. You can layer salmon with chive cream cheese and arugula, chicken nuggets with lettuce and ketchup, roast chicken with tomato and baby lettuces.
The seaweed is folded around the layers and wrapped in plastic wrap for five minutes so the warm rice and seaweed have time to adhere. Then the stack is cut in half like a sandwich. Some of the combos may sound like strange bedfellows, but they are quite tasty and are a great way to use up all the bits in the refrigerator.
1. Spread the rice into square shape
Place a nori sheet with a corner pointing up. Try to evenly spread the rice into a square shape in the center of nori. Don’t forget to leave some space around the rice for easy wrapping.
2. Put the rice and fillings in thin layer
Make sure to place the fillings in single/thin layers and stack them on top of previous one, avoid empty spaces. When you place ingredients, think about the cross-section view after you cut in half. Work with small amount of fillings so that it’s easier to wrap.
3. Mark which side you would cut in half
If your fillings are placed in a single layer on top of another, you don’t need to worry about this tip (like lettuce, cheese, ham etc).
If you place multiple ingredients, it’s important to remember which side you’d need to cut in half before you finish wrapping with nori (and can’t see inside!).
In above diagram, we need to cut along the pink line so that all the fillings with different colors will be visible from cross-section. A trick to remember? Mark the cutting line with a piece of ingredient (I used a stick of carrot).
4. Flip and rest for 5 minutes
Fold each corner of nori sheet tightly around the layers of rice and fillings at the center. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and flip over, seam side down. The steam from the rice will moisten nori sheet and bind all the ingredients well together.
5. Wet your sharp knife
Use a sharp knife to cut it in half. Run water on your knife so the rice and nori won’t stick.
The Japanese sandwich trend has moved quickly from an online sensation 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 who can tell how far it can go? It has the chance to become the next big Japanese food trend overseas. One thing is certain: The onigirazu will certainly have a place on lunch boxes throughout Japan.