made in japan

I Sprinkle These Savory-Sweet Japanese Flakes on Everything

Furikake-seaweed sprinkles on a bed of rice, then drizzled with mayo — you can see the nanami togarashi dusted on the egg, too. Photo: Bobby Doherty

All moms have a way of getting kids to eat things, and mine was no different. Growing up, there was always a jar or two of “sprinkles” in the middle of our lazy Susan, ready to be deployed on everything: rice, steamed veggies, fish, anything my mom wanted us to eat. And I loved the sprinkles — they were salty and sweet, a little crunchy, and added a delicious flavor that I couldn’t then name (but can now: umami). They were so effective at getting my brother and me to eat whatever was put in front of us that later I brought a jar with me when I went babysitting, to get those kids to eat their dinners. And their moms would inevitably ask me: “What are those sprinkles you used? I have to get some.”

The sprinkles are furikake (pronounced foo-ree-kah-keh, not “fury cake”), a Japanese seasoning mix that’s usually used for rice, but is delicious on almost anything: shaved vegetable salads, Dimes-ish grain bowls, and (especially) French fries. There are lots of varieties of furikake — some have dried fish flakes or sweet nuggets of dehydrated egg — but all are some variation on a mix of dried seaweed, salt, and sugar. The seaweed doesn’t register as grassy or green; it’s there purely for that savory umami taste, which probably explains why it’s a hit with kids. My family largely stuck with the JFC brand, the most popular version in Asian markets (and even at our local Safeway in the Bay Area). And unlike the brands that come in plastic pouches, JFC’s glass bottle can be plonked right on the dinner table for little (or grown-up) hands to grab and shake onto their food.

A word of warning, though: Knowing the simple magic of furikake might turn you into an insufferable know-it-all. At Bar Goto, I was served a bar snack of celery garnished with tiny flecks of kombu, sesame seeds, and shiso leaves. “Oh, you mean sprinkles,” I replied. “Yeah, I’ve been eating those since I was a kid.”