Translated by GonzalezLaura
"Ao Onigiri" in Kyoto - A Traditional Taste You Can Trust
Written by SakamotoAyako
Onigiri is a traditional Japanese dish which can be found in convenience stores all around Japan. There is a restaurant specialized in onigiri in Kyoto, called "Ao Onigiri". Read on to find out more about the hand-made onigiri.
Does everyone know of a Japanese traditional dish called "onigiri"?
Japan, just like all other countries around the world, has its fair share of traditional foods. Onigiri (おにぎり "rice ball") just so happens to be one of Japan's traditional dishes.
Onigiri is made by shaping rice with your hands and inserting various fillings in it. Because you eat it using your hands, you can also see some onigiri wrapped with nori ("seaweed"). Also, depending on the area, it's not rare to hear locals calling this dish omusubi.
This food is really familiar to Japanese people, as it's portable, and often eaten as a light meal. Nowadays, you can find onigiri in bentō boxes, and they are often sold in Japanese convenience stores, so it's most likely that visitors to Japan have already tried this dish before at least once.
There are probably not too many people that have eaten onigiri from an onigiri specialty store, though. You've come all the way to Japan, so how about trying some authentic onigiri that is hand-made by professionals?
"Ao Onigiri" in Kyoto- Let's Eat Some Onigiri Made By Professionals!
The author, a Kyoto resident, would like to recommend the onigiri specialty shop, Ao Onigiri. This shop is being run in KyotoCity's Sakyō ward, which features quite a number of shrines and temples.
This scarecrow acts as Ao Onigiri's landmark!
It seems like there are a lot of overseas visitors stopping by the shop, so the sign is written in English. The shop itself is located directly in front of the scarecrow. What kind of shop is Ao Onigiri?
As you enter the shop, you will be greeted with "Irashaimase!" ("Welcome!), and the first thing you'll notice are the drawings of aooni (青鬼 "blue demon") on the wall behind the shop owner.
It seems like this collection of demon pictures started due to the fact that "Ao Onigiri" and "aooni" have the same sound.
An oni "demon" is a very typical Japanese monster. It is usually used as an example for something scary, but the blue demons that decorate the wall are all cute.
The owner of the shop happily tells us, "These picture of the oni were drawn by the children living in the surrounding area, who have visited the shop before. They are the great artists of the future." You can get a glimpse of the warm relationship between the shop and the neighborhood.
We took a quick look at the menu while chatting pleasantly with shop owner.
On the menu, you find onigiri with standard fillings such as kombu or umeboshi. You can also see some onigiri with atypical fillings like cream cheese tarako (*1) and jako mayonnaise(*2).
*1… Tarako: A processed food using cod fish eggs. It's very salty, and is often eaten as a side dish with beer.
*2... Jako: This is a food made with young European Pilchard fish that are boiled in salt, then sun dried. It's also called "chirimenjako."
Once you tell the shop owner what you'd like to eat, he will then start making your onigiri from across the counter.
Some of the patrons in the restaurant seemed quite interested in how the onigiri is made, and there were even some patrons leaning over the counter to get a closer look.
From the left: Onigiri with Negi Miso, Cream Cheese Tarako, Minced Chicken
These are some finished onigiri.
You can't really tell just by looking at them, but all of these onigiri feature different fillings. From the left we have negi miso (soybean paste with green onions), cream cheese tarako, and minced chicken.
Nowadays in Japan, rice is usually cooked using a rice cooker, but at Ao Onigiri, they cook their rice in a kama (釜 "iron pot"). Although it takes a little more work, rice cooked in a kama is fluffier and softer than rice cooked in a rice cooker.
This, paired with crispy seaweed and lots of fillings, is the perfect combination.
Tori soboro, or minced chicken, is made by taking minced chicken and cooking it with soy sauce and sugar, among other flavors, which makes for a sweet and salty flavor. This has recently become a standard filling for onigiri.
Negi miso and cream cheese tarako as onigiri fillings are actually quite a rarity. These two are quite popular novelty menu items at Ao Onigiri!
The savoriness of the miso paste, mixed with the smell of the appetizing negi, as well as the cream cheese mixed with the rich yet mild tarako, will both leave you absolutely captivated.
Also, if you eat the onigiri with miso soup (150 yen, tax included), it'll warm both your heart and body. The miso has enoki (a type of mushroom) and mozuku (a type of seaweed), which makes for a pleasant texture.
Ao Onigiri offers a space where Japanese people can bask in some nostalgia, while also offering a place where they can experience peace of mind.
The shop's owner, Mr. Aomatsu, happily tells us that "Onigiri is a simple dish but has a long history of giving Japanese people the energy charge they've needed."
"When you go out to eat, you'll usually get served food made by someone whose face you haven't seen, and you'll leave the store without really talking with anybody. I think that's unfortunate for both parties. That is why at Ao Onigiri, I talk with the customers while making their orders, and they can enjoy some conversation while eating their hand-made onigiri. A shop where you can regain your spirits - this is the kind of shop I'd like this to be."
This is the reason why Ao Onigiri features a counter-style seating arrangement.
The cook and the customer both enjoy communication through food. Ao Onigiri makes dining a more fulfilling experience.
Onigiri - Enjoy Them In A Shop You Can Trust
Onigiri is a rare dish that's not made using tools, but rather with one's bare hands.
It might be because onigiri is one of the few foods made by hand that Japanese people can feel a sense of warmth from the person who made it. There's also a fullness not only of the stomach, but of the heart as well.
So for everybody who comes to Japan, how about trying some hand-made onigiri from the hands of someone whose face you can see?
Address: Kyoto, Sakyō-ku, Jōdoji Shimominamida-chō 39-3
Hours: 11:30 - evening until food is sold out
Credit Cards: -
Menus available in: Japanese and English
Nearest station: City bus stop Kinrinshakomae 錦林車庫前
Access: 5-minute walk along the river from Kinrinshakomae city bus stop
Price Range: 150 yen-1,000 yen
Official website: Ao Onigiri (Japanese)