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How to Eat in Omusubi Gonbei

Updated on September 16, 2007
Shio-musubi, simple white rice omusubi with salt and some sesame
Shio-musubi, simple white rice omusubi with salt and some sesame

Omusubi (or Onigiri) rice balls are good!

If you love typical Japanese foods, you should try Omusubi Gonbei.

("Omusubi" is pronounced kinda like, "O-moo'-su-bee.")

Like Yoshinoya's gyudon (beef bowl), omusubis (or rice balls) cooked at Gonbei are inexpensive and, probably more important for some people, healthier with less calories (i.e., no fatty meat except for omusubis with some stewed pork).

Gonbei eateries serve omusubis cooked from organic rice and other natural ingredients by the waitstaff themselves in there. I myself like their omusubis so much that I go to eat them occasionally (once a week or so) at the Gonbei within Tokyo Metro (subway) Toranomon station.

Recently, I just learned a couple of facts about Gonbei from their brochure and their website (only in Japanese) as follows:

  • The founder wanted (and still wants) the Japanese to eat much more rice and he decided to run his Gonbei business;
  • All Gonbei employees (including part-time ones) plant and harvest rice at their contract rice farmers'.

Well, if you have read so far, I guess you are quite getting interested in Gonbei even though you have not eaten any omusubis before. However, I would have to admit that Gonbei can be a real challenging experience for you.

The reason: there are about two dozens of omusubi flavors (or tastes) , and the waitstaff won't speak any English or any other language other than Japanese, just like Yoshinoya.

Nonetheless, I am going to try my best and give detailed guidance on what is recommended to eat and how to order omusubis in easiest-to-understand (hopefully) Japanese phrases.

This is simply because I like Gonbei very much and I would like YOU to experience their organic omusubi rice balls during your stay in Tokyo. (I am not getting paid by Gonbei writing this article.)

Okay, enough prologue.

Let me tell you about what omusubis they have to offer.

One note: most tastes or flavors below mean that the ingredient is embedded inside of each brown or white rice ball. Some omusubis are made of rice with the ingredient blended into it altogether.

Brown rice omusubis:

  • Genmai (pronounced like "gain-my," plain brown rice)
  • Konbu ("kong-boo") Genmai (cooked and flavored kelp)
  • Ume ("woo-may") Genmai (pickled plum --- quite sour!)
  • Takana Genmai (kind of pickled vegetable)
  • Tuna Genmai (cooked tuna)
  • Men-tai Cheese Genmai (cod ovum with cheese)
  • Men-taiko Genmai (cod-ovum)
  • Sake ("shah-keh") Genmai (cooked salmon)
  • Jako ("jah-ko") Genmai (dried small fish blended into omusubi)
  • Tori-mayo Genmai (Chicken with mayonnaise)

White Rice omusibis:

  • Shio-musubi (salted omusubi)
  • Iwa-nori-wasabi (Cooked seaweed with horse radish embedded)
  • Okaka (thin-sliced bonito with some soy sauce embedded)
  • Hidaka-Konbu (kelp harvested around the Hidaka area on Hokkaido, cooked)
  • Wafu-Tuna (Japanese style tuna)
  • Kishu-Nankobai (pickled plum harvested around Kishu, a central part of Japan)
  • Goma-Takana (cesami with takana, aforementioned)
  • Men-tai Cheese (cod ovum embedded)
  • Yaki-tarako (cooked cod-ovum embedded)
  • Men-taiko (cod ovum)
  • Hokka-Benisake (north-sea salmon, cooked)
  • Tori-mayo (Chicken with mayonnaise)
  • Ume-zukushi (blended with pickled plum)
  • Buta-kakuni (simmered pork cubes)
  • Shiso-chirimen (Japanese basil with dried small fish)

Side Dishes

  • Kodawari no O-tsukemono (Pickled vegetables - chef's choice)
  • Kisetsu no souzai (Season's Dishes - you've got to check this out there if you can)
  • Kara-age ("Kah-lah-ah-get" - deep-fried chicken like KFC's)
  • Korokke (croquette)
  • Menchi-katsu (minced-meat cutlet)
  • Miso-shiru (miso soup)
  • Ton-jiru (miso-soup with pork and other vegetables)

This is pretty much all.

I guess you may be overwhelmed and not know what to eat. If that's the case, you may want to try my favorite: Sake-genmai and Jako-genmai.

If you do not like seafood, try Tori-mayo or Buta-kakuni (chicken and pork, respectively). Unless you are/get used to Japanese style pickles, you may want to avoid Takana or Ume omusubis because of the rather strong taste/flavor.

Probably, I should have all photos of omusubis above, but I do not have the pics, so please bear with me at this moment.

If you want to see what they are like, you can check out their web site (though Japanese only). Even if you can not read the Japanese text, their Flash slide show will give you some hints on what they have to offer and their philosophy.

As to how to order, for example, try the following phrase:

"Sake-genmai" to "Jako-genmai" wo kudasai.

which means, "Please give me a Sake-genmai and a jako-genmai."

If you want to eat other omusubis, just replace the above ones (my favorite) with whatever you want to eat. If you want eat another omusubi, just add "to [name of the other omusubi] in front of "wo kudasai."

Because the omusubis range from just 100 yen (Shio-musubi) to 180 yen at most, your lunch at a Gonbei won't cost more than 1000 yen unless you eat really a lot. Perhaps the average cost would be 400 to 600 yen (or about 3.50 to 5 US dollars, respectively).

If you are not really sure how to order there but desperately into their omusubi, you can print out this hub, circle the ones you want to eat, and just hand it over to the waitstaff, as the last resort.

Probably they don't speak English or another foreign language but will understand what you want to eat and respond accordingly.

Should you have any questions on this hub, just leave me your comments.

I am more than happy to help you with your omusubi experience! :)

Omusubi Gonbei (logo) - Look for this sign for your omusubi experience!
Omusubi Gonbei (logo) - Look for this sign for your omusubi experience!

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