The Story of Futomaki


The futomaki at Ootoya comes disguised like a birthday present.

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Futomaki is a type of sushi that looks like a regular maki roll blown up with a bicycle pump, but still retaining its perfect cylindrical configuration. Measuring from two to three inches in diameter, it enfolds a combination of ingredients rolled up inside rice and laver (the rather unlovely English word for the dried sheets of seaweed known as nori).

Here’s your present.

Typical futomaki fillings include pickled daikon, shrimp, lotus root, bamboo shoots, surimi, and preserved gourd. Futomaki apparently originated in Kansai (also known as Kinki), a vast plain in the southwest of the main island that is the location of the cities of Osaka and Kyoto, and one of Japan’s oldest historic regions.

Futomaki in Kansai – where the roll is called eho-maki (“happy direction roll”) – originated as a festival food. It would be eaten once a year in uncut form, which must have been quite a spectacle. It had apparently (this from Wikipedia) become common throughout Japan by 2000. Of course, it had become common in the Japanese restaurants of the East Village by 1985, when it could be found on nearly any sushi menu, with a standard combination of fillings. Does this suggest many of the expats who had created the East Village’s Little Tokyo in the early 80s came from Kinki? Maybe so.

The most impressive version this city has ever seen is now being served at Ootoya, a new chain restaurant from Japan that has appeared only recently on West 18th Street.

Their rendition comes wrapped in a mottled leaf and tied with little bits of the same leaf. Inside, find a relatively luxe combination of fillings, for futomaki, that is: shrimp, sea eel, cucumber, omelet, and kanpyo. The menu feels compelled to explain the roll, describing it as “thick rolls of sushi with variety fillings,” suggesting that maybe until recently many Japanese might not have known what it is. (Or conversely, the chain believes New Yorkers won’t know what futomaki is.)

Here’s what the the roll looks like in cross section.

8 West 18th Street