• Kyodo


Onigirazu, an innovative take on the traditional onigiri rice ball, has been chosen as 2015’s food item of the year after the sandwich-like dish became a sensation more than 20 years following its introduction in a manga series.

The Gurunavi Research Institute said Monday that onigirazu best represents the year 2015 because it enables many “creative and innovative” interpretations, thus “broadening the possibilities of rice dishes at a time when people continue to shun them (due to the westernization of Japanese cuisine).”

Onigirazu translates loosely as “not gripping,” as opposed to “gripping” for onigiri.

Tochi Ueyama, author of the long-running “Cooking Papa” manga series, attended a press event Monday held by the Tokyo food research company. He coined the name onigirazu in the manga series in 1991.

“I saw my wife throwing the dish together in a rush when our kid was small, and I drew them in manga and named them onigirazu,” Ueyama said.

Onigirazu is easier and faster to make than a rice ball. It is made by spreading layers of rice and filling over a sheet of seaweed, folding the seaweed into a square to wrap the contents and cutting it with a knife.

To make a regular onigiri, one has to stuff filling into the rice before using both hands to compress and shape it into a ball or a triangle and then wrapping it with seaweed.

Onigirazu came into the spotlight in recent years after it was picked up by Internet users, including people visiting cooking websites in search of recipes.

In addition to being easy to make, people find onigirazu more visually appealing as the colorful fillings, sandwiched by white rice and covered with black seaweed, are all visible as layers.

This year, the popularity of the dish led to many restaurants adding it to their menus and the publication of recipe books explaining how to make it.

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