Abokichi introduces the art of Japan-influenced cuisine at its local neighbourhood café.
onko chishin(温故知新), meaning “finding wisdom through the past,” is a proverb that has influenced Japanese culture for centuries. It’s about respecting tradition while exploring new possibilities, and Abokichi—a Japan-inspired casual food café—is a prime example of this philosophy.
At first glance, Abokichi is very much a traditional neighbourhood café. Exposed brick walls and shelves lined with books create a laid-back and cosy atmosphere. Sandwiches, salads, soup, juice, coffee and tea are listed on the chalkboard menu. But upon further inspection, you’ll notice onigiri on the countertop, mason jars of rice labelled with haiga-mai and bottles of homemade “okazu” (a savoury condiment made in-house from sesame oil, miso paste, fried onion and gar- lic and spices). This was a welcome surprise!
First I tried the Nakame sandwich—shredded carrot and burdock root, arugula, aged cheddar and okazu on fresh multigrain panini. The sandwich is named after Nakameguro, the hip, eclectic Tokyo neighbourhood that co-owners Jess Mantell and Fumi Tsukamoto frequented while living in Japan. With unexpected flavour combinations, contrasting textures and a spicy kick from the okazu, this sandwich lives up to its namesake. The standout ingredient was definitely Mantell and Tsukamoto’s creative okazu.
Next up was the onigiri. With a selection of vegan flavours as well as gluten-free options, Abokichi reinterprets this traditional staple by using mainly plant-based ingredients and haiga-mai (胚芽米). Haiga-mai is a rice that is half-milled, meaning the outer bran layer is removed and the germ is left intact, therefore it is similar in flavour and texture to white rice but with nutritional benefits outweighing brown rice.
Abokichi takes onigiri seriously. There are different varieties offered each day and each one is hand- crafted. I sampled three flavours: “Gomoku” (shiitake, burdock and carrot), “chili+kelp” and “ginger+shiso.” The rice was perfectly cooked with just the right amount of stickiness, and each flavour combination incorporated both classic and unique elements. As someone who has had their fair share of onigiri in their lifetime, I was thoroughly impressed.
It’s not easy to balance Japanese influences with Western ones, but Abokichi obviously understands and respects tradition while creating something new. It’s a perfectly delicious harmony.
Staff: Rondie Li
A Japanese food, literature and arts enthusiast, Rondie is passionate about the authenticity and creativity behind Japanese culture. He appreciates good food in any form and also enjoys cooking and experimenting in his kitchen at home. He loves cats, photography, vintage sunglasses and wearing fun socks with his oxford shoes.
258 Dupont St., Toronto | 416-513-1333
www.abokichi.com | Open: Mon–Fri 9 am–7 pm Sat–Sun 12 pm–5 pm