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Onigiri - Comfort Food To Go

Shopping at a Conbini

Across the street from the train station in Nara, Japan is a Sunkus conbini, or Japanese convenience store. I stopped by most every day on my last visit to Nara. I think I found something new and interesting every time.

One of my favorite stops whenever I travel is a local food store. I love to see what kind of food can be picked up for a quick meal at home or on the go. The Japanese conbini (also spelled combini or konbini depending on where you look) offers an interesting collection of both, not to mention a fascinating assortment of beverages and other items. There are a number of different conbini chains in Japan offering a similar variety of merchandise and so it seems a conbini is almost always nearby, at least in the areas of Japan I have visited.

Optimal Packaging

My favorite quick bite from a Japanese conbini is Onigiri. It is really an amazing creation. Onigiri is a traditional Japanese comfort food that consists of a small piece of fish, fish salad or even a pickled plum at the center of a rice ball wrapped in nori. What makes the onigiri from a conbini particularly appetizing is the unique packaging that keeps the outer wrapper of nori from touching the rice until the package is opened, thus preserving its fresh taste and crispy texture.

My favorite flavor is a simple Salmon Onigiri from a Sunkus conbini. I like it best because I can easily identify the flavor I prefer by the shade of orange (or salmon) on the label, a real help since I cannot read the Japanese writing on the package. Some of the fillings are a bit exotic for my tastes and make for an unhappy surprise when I am guessing which Onigiri to buy at other conbini marts.

Comfort Food Confidence

The obvious flavor of salmon in the center of sticky rice and crispy nori is a perfect midday combination. I seek out these Onigiri whenever I am not sure where I will find my next meal. They take the edge off any odd-hour hunger as my body adjusts to a new time zone and can keep travel grumpiness at bay on a long afternoon.

Picking up an Onigiri or two along with a can of hot coffee or a bottle of unsweetened green tea makes a great meal on the run. Packed in my bag it gives me confidence that I will not go hungry for lingering over great photo stops, interesting exhibits or an unexpected opportunity in the course of my sightseeing itinerary or business agenda for the day.

While the secret to this delicious Onigiri is in the packaging, the trick is that the same packaging can be a little confusing to open, especially for a tourist traveling in an unfamiliar land. There are instructions:

Though, thankfully, they are illustrated they can still be a little difficult to make out especially when plagued by the haziness of jet-lag. Once mastered, however, these delicious snacks can be a quick and easy life saver on a busy day abroad.

Unwrapping Essentials

To successfully open your Onigiri, first locate the top of the triangle. In the case of my favorite onigiri this point is clearly labeled with the number 1.

Grasp this tab and pull it down toward the bottom bisecting the triangle. You aren't done yet.

Now keep pulling until the tab has run all the way up the back of the triangle.

After pulling the tab to its end hold the onigiri triangle by one side of the cellophane wrapper. With thumb and forefinger of your free hand, grasp the edge of the other half of the cello wrapper at the lower point of the triangle.

Gently pull until the cellophane slips away from the outside and inside of the nori wrapper.

Repeat with the other side of the cellophane until the packaging is fully removed.

Now wrap the nori snugly around the rice

And eat it like a sandwich.

An Interesting View

While you are at the conbini be sure to look over the array of other interesting items you may find there: unusual flavors of Kit Kat bars, unique candy and gum like Black Black, chocolate filled cracker bears or mushrooms, saké, ice cream bars, and souvenirs. Even bottled water can be interesting when viewed through new eyes.

It offers a fascinating peak into the modern culture of convenience and its manifestations even a half a world away.


grace said...

what nifty packaging! i've found in my experience as a food technologist that japan has some of the most innovative and useful products in all the world.

Lisa said...

Hi Grace! Food technologist? I like the sound of that!

Shesjetlagd said...

I used to live in Tokyo - many yrs ago - but still remember the fun of walking into the conbini and seeing all the cute obentos & other snacky items... Love onigiri... and their pkg was always sooo innovative! Thanks for sharing your experience w/ us! :)

PS Yes I'm just a 'little' behind in catching up on my blog reading. LOL!