Saturday, August 29, 2009

Onigiri - Japanese Snack Food

In Japan, and Japanese influenced-countries like Taiwan, you can get sandwiches at the ubiquitous Lawson Stations or 7-11's, BUT you are missing out on a treat if you just stick with the Western food. Try an onigiri for a light, healthy and very tasty treat. About the size of a baseball, the standard triangular onigiri you can get in convenience stores is also an incredibly well-designed feat of packaging.

The central rice "ball" has a small amount of filling: in this case, if I read my Chinese right, it's creamy shrimp(?) - please correct me if I'm wrong here. But the crispy nori wrapping goes soggy if it touches the rice. Several years ago, Japanese design engineers came up with a way to keep the nori on the outside separate from the rice by a two-layer packaging design. You pull the tab (top dead center of the triangle) out and around, splitting the package in two, then pull off the plastic wrapping from each of the other corners, and voila - crunchy nori wrapped around the riceball. It's like the magician's trick where he pulls the tablecloth off the table and leaves the crockery intact.

Try two different flavors and a drink and you've got a great lunch for around USD$5.

Safe travels! Des


  1. Japanese food is SO good! In my brief travels there I don't think that I ever felt the need to eat a Western dish. Sometimes ignorance can be truly blissfull - picking a dish based upon the photograph or the plastic model can be exciting...

    Lawson's can be good for cheap sushi boxes as well - always cheaper than the ones at the railway stations.

    Japanese food packaging can be an extreme sport though. Individually cellophaned bananas and apples aren't unusual - I'm sure someone somewhere gets paid by the (linear) meter.

  2. In my brief trip through Japan eaarlier this year, I don't think I had the need to resort to Western Food - photos and plastic models of food provided enough knowledge to make realtively informed choices.

    Lawson's did provide a cheap source of sushi boxes (much cheaper than those found at railway stations). It was always quite funny going into a Lawsons or 7-11 and watching the hapless Anglos scratching their heads attempting to work out what the some of the more obscure packets were - ever tried finding honey?

    One thing about packaging in Japan - too much packaging around food is never enough. I bought a bag of 5 apples from Lawsons - each apple was wrapped individually in the bag.

    And I don't think I have ever been to store with more lumens per square metre than the Lawsons near where I was staying in Kyoto...

  3. Yeah: don't forget that fruit is often given as a present, too - which may explain some of the overwrapping. The Eki-ben (railway station bento) is usually unique to that specific region and station, so you may miss out on a special treat by going generic at the Lawson Station or 7-11. You can save a boatload of dosh, too, though, so your point is well taken.