Newest food obsession: nikuman with karashi

5 Mar

Nikuman (肉まん) are steamed Japanese meat buns, similar to Chinese baozi buns, which you may have seen at dim sum. They have a very soft, doughy consistency with meat (usually pork), vegetables and sauce inside. The texture is a bit strange to Western palates — “tastes like human,” said one friend. And they can be a bit boring by themselves if the stuffing doesn’t have strong flavours. But after seeing a university student put mustard on hers, I did the same and it was a total game changer.

It’s quite difficult to get spicy food in Japan. I’ve ordered an Indian curry and asked for “hot” only to get almost no spice in the dish. Japanese hot mustard is called karashi and is the perfect topping for these meat buns. When buying nikuman, you will probably be offered karashi, please say hai!

Nikuman - Japanese meat bun - with karashi.

Nikuman – Japanese meat bun – with karashi.

Nikuman come in many forms. The classic nikuman or butaman will have ground pork inside. But there are also ones with pork belly or curry. I’ve tried a nikuman shaped and coloured like an orange cartoon cat and filled with sweet red bean paste.

These hot pockets of deliciousness are sold at most convenience stores, kept hot in a steamer next to the cash register. Though I am now reading on Wikipedia that they are, tragically, only sold in the winter months. Otherwise, the best nikuman are said to be at 551 Horai, which has many restaurants and bun stands across Osaka. The combini nikuman usually costs around 120 yen ($1.30), while 551 Horai sneakily forces you to buy multiples of two, but charges just 320 yen.

Grocery store bought nikuman and karashi.

Grocery store bought nikuman and karashi.

Or, if you have late night cravings for cheap nikuman, you can purchase them at the grocery store for 100 yen for a three pack with a 100 yen large bottle of karashi. These can be covered in paper towel, steamed in the microwave for twenty seconds and then immediately eaten. Oishi!


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