Japan from the inside out

Onigiri Olympics

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, September 7, 2011

THE campy cooking battles staged for the television program Iron Chef, in which visiting chefs faced off against members of the Gourmet Academy of Chairman Kaga Takeshi in his castle’s cooking stadium after the allez cuisine signal to start, are perhaps the best-known Japanese food competition. There are other, less flamboyant events, however.

One of those was recently held at Hisata Gakuen Sasebo Girls’ High School in Sasebo, Nagasaki: The Fifth Onigiri Olympics. It was pleasantly goofy rather than being over the top. Onigiri are triangular or oval-shaped rice balls made by hand, sometimes wrapped in processed seaweed and always filled with one of several tasty ingredients. It would be fair to consider them the Japanese equivalent of a sandwich.

This year’s Onigiri Olympics featured 50 participants facing off in two divisions. One was the Design Division, in which the contestants had to create rice ball designs on the theme of Sasebo. The competition in the other division was to create onigiri of the same weight as a sample.

Nine teams participated in the Design Division contest, and the winner was a mother-daughter team called Gachapin’s. All the teams used white rice mixed with saffron rice in a 5-1 ratio. Salmon was used for the pink colors, umeboshi for red, sesame for flesh tones, and processed seaweed for green. The creations were arranged on a 40-centimeter plate to depict such local items as the Sasebo burger (read more on those by using the search engine on the left sidebar) or the Saikai Bridge.

I’m sure everyone had a grand time, especially as they admired each other’s creations, but they saved the best for last — after all the work and the judging, no one went home hungry!

Here’s a photo of the Saikai Bridge. Imagine using rice balls to depict that.

And here’s Sada Masashi singing a paen to hometowns everywhere in a song called Sasebo. The accompanying photo display is well done, and Oda Kazumasa helping out on the chorus is a bonus.

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