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How Onigiri Master Yumiko Ukon Makes 500,000 Rice Balls a Year

This iconic Tokyo shop is known for its creative takes on the traditional snack

Onigiri Bongo is one of Tokyo’s most famous shops to sell the stuffed rice snack wrapped in nori. Chef and owner Yumiko Ukon and her late husband have popularized non-traditional onigiri flavors since 1960.

Now the shop makes 1,500 rice balls a day in 55 flavors, including mayonnaise and tuna, curry and beef tendon stew, and salmon roe and takana. These different flavors have become so popular, customers wait up to five hours in line to try them.

The shop’s name, Bongo, comes from Ukon’s late husband’s love of playing the drums. She says, “He wanted to express his wish that the restaurant’s name would be heard from far, like the drum bongo.”

The family themes are an important part of what makes Onigiri Bongo so special.

“[I] grew up eating so much food that my mother made with love,” says Ukon. “My favorite onigiri ever is one made by my mother. Whenever I eat onigiri, I see her face.”

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