We come across delicious rice balls that my mother may have made on an island far from mainland Japan.
While Amami Oshima is the largest island of the Amami archipelago, which is governed by Kagoshima Prefecture, it is actually closer to Okinawa than to the Japanese mainland Honshu. The island boasts plenty of stunning natural scenery, but there are also many secluded areas with no shops or places to buy food, so it’s a good idea to always stock up on plenty of snacks when traveling.
Speaking of snacks, Amami Oshima is home to a super-local convenience store chain named Shimanchu Mart (島人マート), of which there are only five stores in total. It is at the Kasari headquarters that our world-traveling correspondent in Japanese Ikuna Kamezawa I tried what might best onigiri grocery store in her life.
▼ Kasari is the closest to Amami Airport, although it would take about an hour and a half to get there.
You can get there by bus, but due to the limited timetable, a car is by far the most convenient way to get there.
The interior of the store is not much different from other convenience stores.
Since it is close to the ocean, there are goods for swimming and fishing in this location.
In fact, it sells a wide range of items necessary for everyday life.
The longer Ikuna looked around, the more it struck her how peculiar the onigiri section seemed. First, they didn’t sell any “regular” triangle-shaped rice balls. Typical fillings such as cod roe were uncommon, and most were made in the “onigirazu” style, which is an onigiri shaped more like a sandwich with sheets of nori enveloping the rice and fillings inside.
She remembered the “soul food” from Okinawa pork and onigiri egg that had grown in popularity in the last few years – delicious rice balls stuffed with spam and fried egg. They go by different names in different stores, but the Shimanchu Mart name for this version is “luncheon onigiri”.
Aside from these initial observations, she selected the six most interesting-looking onigiri and proceeded to the register.
There were several chairs and tables outside where she sat preparing for her taste test. Not such a bad sight when you can see the waves from your friendly neighborhood grocery store!
OK, let’s get to the onigiri summary. They were first similarly named “Onigiri lunch(180 yen [US$1.27]) and “Lunch(120 yen).
As previously shared, Luncheon Onigiri appears to be the version more commonly known as spam and egg onigiri. It’s a thinly cooked omelette paired with a thick and salty piece of cold pork in the middle of home-cooked rice. Ikuna thought it was absolutely divine.
Meanwhile, Dinner was a bit of a mystery at first glance. After pushing the layers aside, she discovered it consisted of a thin strip of pork with a healthy dollop of mayonnaise. The simpler nature of these fillings definitely enhanced the natural flavor of the rice and nori.
Next in line werePork and egg bomb(228 yen) and “Kokko bomb(218 yen).
At the end of the day, the former turned out to be her favorite of all she had tried.
Biting into the bright yellow “bomb” was a bit of a nerf, but the fillings turned out to be the same as Luncheon Onigiri – the main difference being that this time the omelette encased the entire outer surface. It’s amazing how the same ingredients in different places seemed to change the overall flavor of the onigiri. A bit of tuna mayonnaise also added a nice burst of flavor inside.
Similarly, the relatively simple Kokko bomb (with “kokko” referring to the “clacking” of the chicken) consisted of an omelet outer casing filled with katsuobushi gohan (rice cooked with dried bonito flakes). As she bit into it, Ikuna somehow felt nostalgic. Then and there she decided that almost anything would be delicious if it were wrapped in an omelette.
Only two more onigiri completed the list. Normally, Ikuna would never buy something like “tuna mayonnaise bomb with fried chicken” (228 yen), but even gobbled it up right away.
Finally, the basic “Salmon Onigiri” (120 yen) once and for all confirmed Shimanchu Mart’s ability to create the most delicious onigiri.
So what about the onigiri made them possibly the best grocery Ikuna has ever tried? Put simply, they didn’t taste like grocery store onigiri at all. He also doesn’t mean that typical grocery stores taste bad – they just definitely look like they were made by a machine rather than a living person. In contrast, she may have confused the Shimanchu Mart ones with those made by her mother. They weren’t incredibly tightly packed and they weren’t in the fridge so everything about them screamed “fresh”. They just seemed to be full of unconditional love.
For now, Ikuna will continue to enjoy Amami’s special onigiri while on the island, but she may need that onigiri heater when she returns to the Tokyo office.
Reference: Shimanchu Mart
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