This cute animal comes with four different surprise fillings.

The other day, our Japanese-language reporter Yuuichiro Wasai was taking a walk around the Ueno/Okachimachi area near his apartment in Tokyo when he was suddenly distracted by a flurry of movement as people rushed towards a nearby bento shop.

Being the intrepid reporter he is, Yuuichiro immediately headed over to see what all the fuss was about, and as soon as he laid eyes on what everyone was looking at, he understood the reason for the commotion.

That’s right — this place sold onigiri rice balls that looked like nothing anyone there had ever seen before. The onigiri had been handmade to look like adorable pandas and, like the animals themselves, these had some weight to them, as each one tipped the scales at a whopping one kilogram (2.2 pounds).

Yuuichiro wasted no time in picking up one of the enormous rice balls, joining the other customers in line as they bought theirs as well, with everyone happily handing over 650 yen (US$5.34) for the panda experience.

When Yuuichiro stepped out of the shop, he had to turn around to find out what the store was called, as he’d missed that detail during the commotion.

Kitchen Dive is a 24-hour bento shop that has a bit of a reputation for massive rice balls. However, this was the first time Yuuichiro had ever seen them come out with a panda rice ball. Pandas are a common theme in the area, though, as it’s close to Ueno Zoo, which is famous throughout Japan for its panda residents, including a baby born in 2018.

▼ Yuuichiro’s panda was no baby in the onigiri world, because…well, just take a look at it! It’s as big as his face!

Much larger than an ordinary rice ball, which weighs around 100 grams (3.5 ounces), this meal would be like eating ten rice balls in one sitting.

As Yuuichiro stared into the panda’s big seaweed eyes, he began to feel as if it he’d brought home an adorable pet. He quickly shrugged that thought off, though, because both he and the panda knew what was coming next, and it wasn’t going to be pretty.

▼ Yuuichiro unwrapped the panda, popped it on a plate, and then heated it in the microwave.

Unsure of what the correct etiquette would be for eating a panda rice ball, Yuuichiro decided to start off gently, easing the side of his chopsticks down through one of its fluffy rice ears.

This ended up revealing a filling of katsuobushi (dried, smoked bonito), which was a lovely surprise. Yuuichiro decided to try the other ear to see what it had hiding inside, and he was excited to find that it too, was filled with katsuobushi!

Avoiding the poor panda’s gaze, Yuuichiro turned his head as he split the face in two from top to bottom, which revealed…

▼ …salmon flakes!

Poking around further, our reporter discovered mustard greens inside the panda’s cheeks (left, below), and konbu (right) around its neck area.

Yuuichiro was suitably impressed with everything this panda had to offer, and the variety of fillings it contained made every bite of the rice ball an exciting adventure.

As he felt himself becoming full, Yuuichiro suddenly had the bright idea to pour a little hot water over it all to turn it into a meal of ochazuke.

Sure, it wasn’t pretty, but it tasted great! It was beautifully warm and full of flavour, and Yuuichiro managed to consume the whole thing without feeling too guilty about it all. He did feel like lying back in the sunshine and munching on a bamboo leaf afterwards, which may or may not have been due to the panda now in his belly.

EIether way, Yuuichiro highly recommends giving it a try the next time you find yourself in the Ueno neighbourhood!

Store Information

Kitchen Dive Okachimachi Store / キッチン DIVE 御徒町店
Address: Tokyo-to, Taito-ku, Ueno 6-2-1

Photos ©SoraNews24
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[ Read in Japanese ]