Set aside the chopsticks. A Japanese street food called onigirazu has inspired the launch of a range of sushi sandwiches.
Founder Arthur Liegeois created the brand Norigami after noticing a gap in the market for healthy, free-from lunchtime options, particularly as he is intolerant to gluten and dairy and found it difficult to find suitable choices.
Onigirazu was something that was created in the 90s, but it never really took off as a commercial brand, Liegeois tells Food Spark.
“But it was part of the bento boxes that mothers would cook for their kids on the way to school, and they would put all the leftovers in and as many vegetables as possible,” he says.
“I searched the web again and again and again and never found someone who did it as a commercial brand. I thought, 'It’s too good to be true, but if I did it myself, I would probably want to do it differently by bringing in all the various influences I have been through travelling the world. So what if I would design one recipe from each part of the world that I liked?' And that’s how Norigami was born.”
As the name suggests, the sushi sandwich includes nori seaweed bread, rice and fillings. But all the sandwiches at Norigami are gluten, lactose, nut and wheat free.
So what world flavours are stuffed into these sushi sandwiches?
Around the globe
The increasingly popularity of Japanese food, with various reports noting it as a growing trend, helped Liegeois’ decision to pursue the concept, but he always planned to take it beyond its original influences.
“I wanted to keep the legacy from the Japanese world, but I consciously didn’t work with Japanese people. I tried and I started working with a sushi chef and she wanted to do it the Japanese way, but I thought it was limiting,” he explains.
Along with a chef who is experienced with street food, Liegeois has been testing and creating 20 different recipes, although only four are on sale at the moment. These are categorised as meat, fish or vegan. He is also developing other categories such as seasonal and kid-friendly.
The current sandwiches include a Japanese-inspired one with salmon marinated in miso and seven spices, partnered with pickled cucumber and green beans. Then there’s the Spanish-influenced filling of egg, chorizo and caramelised red onion.
There’s also a Moroccan recipe: chermoula chicken with pickled red cabbage and spinach. A lot of time and effort was also put into the vegan recipe, which was Sri Lankan inspired and includes a potato curry, with coriander, parsley, and pickled sweet and sour carrots.
“I am also trying to look at influences of recipes that could become superheroes,” says Liegeois.
He is working on a 'cha ca la vong' recipe, which is a classic Hanoi dish in Vietnam involving grilled fish with turmeric and dill, and a Chilean recipe with aji verde, the yellow pepper from that region.
Stepping away from sushi
But Liegeois doesn’t want to be pigeonholed by sushi or sandwiches and is hoping to create an entirely new category of food for his creations.
“I don’t want to be categorised as another sushi maker,” he says.
“We are coming from there and are going in a very different direction with what we are going to do. At the moment, we are conventional about using white sushi rice, but we will move to very different types of rice and grains, so we are free to express ourselves and innovate without being categorised.”
This means no raw fish in the sandwiches and branching out into more 'alkaline' grains like red, grown and black rice, as well as quinoa.
There is even an idea for a dessert sandwich: designing a recipe with the black rice made out of chocolate.
From delivery to the street
So where is the concept headed?
Norigami offers a lunchtime delivery service from a production kitchen in Aldgate East and also has a pop-up organised at Sourced Market in St Pancras.
There are plans for a retail outlet later this year, with an ambition for 30 sites both internationally and in the UK over the next decade.
So what does Sparkie think of this sandwich spectacle?
It’s an interesting concept. I think by covering all these bases within free-from they might end up only receiving that niche group of consumers who need at least one of those.
It’s going to depend on how it’s advertised. If it’s advertised as a general good food for everyone that happens to be free-from, it might serve the owner better.
As for the flavours, the trends point towards the more traditional being more popular right now, but recognisable flavours are an easy way to win over the more dubious consumers if the product is good.