Convenience stores and casual takeouts aren’t the typical way most experience Japanese cuisine outside the land of the rising sun – until Onigiri found its way to foreign shores.
It’s a base of sticky, salted white rice pressed to form a ball, rectangle or triangle that’s wrapped in seaweed and filled with a range of delectables from pickles to plum, to salmon and processed meat.
Singapore and Malaysia recently caught onto the trend, most prominently in 7-Eleven stores.
Working from a central kitchen in Kiarong, a 28-year-old Bruneian (pictured above) now wants to do the same.
Wrapped in plastic that neatly folds over – as well as in between the seaweed and the sticky rice, Jasper Yau has taken close care so that when you throw your Onigiri into your suitcase, handbag or backpack for a quick bite later, it’ll most likely stay intact.
“I first found onigiri in Australia, not Japan,” said Jasper with a laugh. “It was in a Japanese fast food place, nearby where I was studying. That was back in 2010.”
Although he thoroughly enjoyed onigiri – he didn’t act to bring the concept back, not till he began to see it pop up repeatedly around the region during his travels.
“Couple of years later I saw it in Taiwan, and then later in Korea,” he said. “It was something that was unique, that was standing out.”
Online descriptions of onigiri paint it as a cheaper, quicker and altogether less fancy version of its mistaken counterpart, sushi; the former best described as takeout, on-the-go while the latter more suited for sit-down dining.
After taking a month long course in Japanese cuisine in Singapore, Jasper rolled out the first batch of Genji in January finding distribution over the past three months to seven locations – including the healthy section of Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Saleha (RIPAS) Hospital’s canteen, Yugo Dessert in Kiulap and Koharu on the Mall’s third floor.
But it wasn’t untill this past weekend – at the Made in Brunei Market Fair at Bridex – did Genji seize the public’s attention.
He sold on out on all three days, the first two before 4pm.
“I’m happy and heartened by the response that we’ve gotten,” said Jasper. “There’s great feedback. Some people have seen it (onigiri) before – but this is the first time they’ve seen it being packaged and sold (off the shelf) in Brunei.”
The recipe, a combination of the Japanese standard and a little of his mother’s cooking, won rave reviews, with customers returning after trialing their first. Tuna Mayo, Egg Mayo, Salmon Teriyaki, Spicy Salmon and Shrimp Patty were the most popular, but varieties with beef and chicken were also sold.
Catering to supermarkets and cinemas is next on Jasper’s mind, but since each onigiri is crafted, folded and packaged by hand, finding a way to automate some of the product’s development or hire more staff will be necessary to move forward.
“We recently got Halal Certification as well so we are ready to expand to the full market,” he added. “Judging from the response we got (at MIBMF) we are certainly aiming to produce more.”
You can find Genji Onigiri at The Mall at Koharu and MilkCow, at Yugo Dessert and Lifestream Organic at the Setia Kenangan 2 complex in Kiulap, Mochi at The Airport Mall, RNC Café at the UBD Library and RIPAS Canteen.
You can get in touch or pre-order Genji at +6738212196 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about their latest flavours and updates follow @genjibrunei on Instagram and Facebook.