The Onigilly Event – The Rice is Right!

Check out this awesome post from the bloggers Alex and Kristina at Bites by the Bay about our recent event with Onigilly (The Rice is Right!). We really couldn’t have said it better ourselves…

Simmr presents:  The Onigilly event!

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The Place:

As great as it is to go around and stuff our faces at all the restaurants in SF (and great it is), when it’s time to have a meal at home, our cooking skills just can’t seem to compare to the high standard The List has set for us.  Now, we are being a little self-deprecating.  We can make a pretty decent meal, but we often find ourselves trying to the make the dishes we have when going out, however they never seem to hit the mark.  The problem is that while we know how to eat the food at our favorite restaurants, we don’t know much about it or how to make it.  Other times we notice our dining experiences kind of running together.  Get a drink, order apps, eat good food, rinse and repeat.  We find ourselves wanting something a little different.  So how does one rectify these issues?  Enter Simmr, a company that connects customers to local restaurants through unique events.  Simmr teams up with chefs and restaurants to create fun, hands on experiences that are sometimes part learning and part eating.

We really like this idea because it has obvious benefits to both customers and businesses.  For customers, they get to experience a restaurant in a way they’d never get to normally.  Depending on how the event is set up, they may learn a little about the concept and history behind the food, they may get to make the dishes, or they may have a sweet customized meal just for them!   Not to worry about price either, this value came for a VERY reasonable price.  For businesses, they get a great chance to give customers a more in-depth look at what makes them special and to forge a more personal relationship.  This can really help create evangelists for their business and increase word of mouth.

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So, on to the food!  The Simmr event we decided to attend was hosted by Onigilly, a Japanese restaurant that specializes in the traditional onigiri, or rice balls, with a little flair of fusion.  Onigilly has two set locations as well as a stand and a roving foodcart.  The event took place in their location in the Financial District, a nice and cozy spot with an open kitchen and a small upstairs.  We were not sure what to expect on arrival but the Simmr and Onigilly staff was very friendly in welcoming us, giving us name tags, and directing us to the event area.

Things kicked off with an introduction of the staff and a description of what we’d be learning / eating.  The size of the group was perfect, roughly 15-20 people, just enough to have fun but not too large.  We had a nice time meeting our table-mates (and of course had an easy topic to talk about, food!), one of whom we found out runs the excellent blog Shikha la Mode which we highly recommend.  After the intro we jumped right into the demonstration!

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The Dish:

The first thing covered was the rice.  Onigilly uses a custom made brown rice that is 30% polished and actually looks a bit more like white rice.  Their method is straightforward; soak the rice for 30 minutes in a 1 : 1.5 ratio of rice to water, and then cover on medium high heat for 10 minutes and fluff.  One of our biggest shocks for the evening was how damn good that rice was.  It was slightly sweet with a little hint of earthiness and the perfect texture.  Unfortunately the rice is custom made for them by Koda Farms, so we might have to search a bit to find something comparable.

Next up was the onigiri itself.  Onigiri dates back about 2,300 years as a popular, quick meal.  Samurai would carry onigiri into battle for a quick and hearty snack.  The concept is very simple; pressed rice and a savory filling, all wrapped up in seaweed.  Though this sounds similar to sushi, it is far from it.  We were told that onigiri is just as popular as sushi in Japan, and more of a staple (we’ll have to ask Uncle Mark, who lives there).  The Onigilly staff gave us a quick demo of two different techniques of making onigiri and then we were let loose to try our hand at it.  There were four different fillings to choose from; Ume (sour pickled plum), Hijiki (soy-braised seaweed and carrots), spicy shrimp, and spicy bacon.  Of course we tried making all four (multiples of each as well).

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Though our onigiri maybe didn’t turn out as pretty as the one’s made by the staff, we were surprised by how compact and easy to hold they were.  Definitely makes sense that these are great for on the go.  Another cool thing is since the fillings are already cooked in different sauces, there’s no need to fumble with the mess of pouring soy or wasabi on it (something anyone who’s had to-go sushi has probably gone through).  All four were delicious, though the seaweed and bacon were our favorites.  The seaweed added a nice meaty texture and crunch and imparted a burst of soy flavor.  The bacon was……well, it was bacon, which is always awesome, but add some spice to it?  Bam!  Now you’re speaking our language.

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We sat down to enjoy our variety of delicious rice balls and were also greeted with edamame, miso soup, marinated mushrooms, chicken katsu, and some delicious infused sake.  Talk about food overload in the best way possible!  We chowed down, comparing notes with the other patrons, talking about food experiences, and generally just having a kick-ass time.

The Verdict:

Yes to Simmr and yes to Onigilly.  We really had a fantastic time, and one that we felt was very unique.  Have you ever watched a cooking demonstration on the Food Network and thought, wow, that looks fun?  Well this is that in real life.  We really enjoy what Simmr offers for a number of reasons.  First off, the best way to learn is by doing, and this allows you to step inside the kitchen of local restaurants and really get to know how things are made.  We are always looking for different types of experiences, and this event was definitely something you don’t get often.  It was so neat to meet the chefs and get to ask questions about the food, their philosophy, and their history, all while eating to our hearts content.  We are looking forward to our next event (especially when we heard that Simmr is teaming up with our favorite pho place, Turtle Tower!) and highly suggest you do the same.  How each event is structured will vary, but you can be sure that it will be something unique.  We will definitely be back to Onigilly and look forward to some more spicy bacon onigiri!

*Note*  There’s going to be another Onigilly event hosted by Simmr, and you should definitely check it out and sign up for the wait list (events get triggered when enough people sign up!)  http://www.simmr.co/events/3

Dig In,

A & K

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Sound Bytes after Tava

The feedback is in — we’re hearing some great things about Tava from event-goers!

I was very impressed by Vijay’s knowledge…The glass jar was the best thing ever. Getting a high quality, physical thing to take home meant a lot.

–Jordan L.

The…demo was great. I thought the owner gave a really thorough explanation, and I was happy to learn about chai, get to try theirs, get my own JAR (I freakin’ loved that jar), and then get a spiked chai. The whole progression [of the event] was the best part of the evening.

–Lauren S.

[I am] more likely to go there now because I’ve … met the owner. [I] feel more of an emotional connection. [It was] good that Vijay was available to talk before and after. He had the right personality to be running that kind of event. He had good charisma.

–Ritu T.

[The event] was a great way to get a new intro to a place I didn’t know about.

–Bonni S. @ Chrysanthemum food blog

I don’t like hot drinks, and, believe it or not, I’ve never had tea before, but now I’m hooked in chai!

–Hans M.

After this, I fully trust Vijay can put on a great event, so I would definitely go to another Tava event.

–Charles Z.

Success! — Tava’s 1st Simmr event on the rich, spicy history of chai

After 3 months of staring at a computer screen to build our website, we are happy to announce that we have launched Simmr beta! Our first restaurant is one very close to our hearts (and offices) — Tava Indian Kitchen.

We first met Vijay and Hasnain, co-founders of Tava, in their Palo Alto location, back when we were building an Angellist for small businesses. In classic startup stalking fashion, we noticed what looked like a meeting between the founders of Tava and a vendor. After some nonchalant loitering, waiting for that meeting to end, we approached Vijay and Hasnain. They graciously agreed to answer our questions about how Tava got started.

Fast forward 9 months, past 3 restaurant fundraisings, many conversations with small business owners, and a tough but well deliberated pivot, we reconnected with Tava. A lot had changed on their end, too – with a very successful store in Palo Alto, they had opened a San Francisco store … right across from where we work. With the energy and enthusiasm of an entrepreneur who gets the importance of building real relationships with customers, Vijay signed up to become a pilot Simmr business.

Vijay and Simmr

The Simmr team (Jamie, Wendy, Neeharika) + Vijay

There were so many possible ideas, but we finally settled on showcasing Tava’s chai, a unique blend of 10+ spices that Vijay and his team researched and concocted.

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Spices on spices on spices in Tava’s store decor

The evening of the event, attendees were greeted by Vijay and a long communal table. After everybody had a chance to get their fill of Tava’s delicious food, Vijay stepped up to the head of the table with about a dozen glass jars of spices in front of him, some easily recognizable, some completely foreign. He first talked about his background and Tava’s story. The founders of Tava had left comfortable jobs in consulting and private equity to create Tava, which actually is the word for a large, flat griddle used in South Asian cooking for bread.

Eating and Chatting

Attendees eating and chatting amongst themselves

Vijay Presenting Audience

Vijay telling about Tava’s story

Vijay Presenting

Vijay showcasing a spice

Vijay Demonstrating

Vijay preparing a spice

Vijay described how in Indian homes, fresh bread was a norm, such that somebody was consistently bringing out fresh roti during a meal. Inspired by this and the wide range of fresh, high quality Californian ingredients, Tava starts each ordering process by putting a ball of uncooked dough on the tava. As the roti cooks in front of the customer’s eyes, an employee and handy menu guides the customer to first choose a rich base sauce, a protein filling, and a melee of fun, colorful chutneys. All these ingredients and spices are mixed in a bowl or wrapped within a warm, slightly chewy roti.

Sustainable Ingredients

Tava’s sustainable philosophy

Order Process

Attendees going through Tava’s ordering process

Vijay Helping Out

Vijay getting down and dirty behind the counter to help the line go faster

Burrito Bowl

Ah, the finished product!

Chai, Vijay explained, is a centuries-old beverage commonly drank in India after meals. It produces a warming, soothing effect, and acts as a natural digestive aid. Chai literally means “mixed-spice tea” and is made by brewing black tea with a mixture of aromatic Indian spices and herbs. The spices and herbs vary across region and personal preference. In creating the chai on Tava’s menu, Vijay and his co-founders researched a vast array of spices including cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and star anise to come to a well-balanced mixture that is lightly sweet and creamy with a warm, spicy kick – what they call ‘Christmas in a Cup.’

Vijay carefully described each spice and the flavors it brings or enhances before passing each jar for attendees to smell and touch. We learned interesting facts like that peppercorn (from which pepper is made) is actually a fruit and that green ones are milder in flavor than their black counterparts.

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Touching and smelling a spice

Interacting with Spices

More touching and smelling of spices

Armed with this knowledge and a fresh cup of chai, participants then created their own chai spice mixes to take home in glass jars. Vijay walked around and engaged with each attendee personally, helping to answer questions and giving suggestions on what might be interesting mixes based on each person’s tastes. After some time to chat and interact, we announced a surprise for the evening – a cold, alcoholic chai that was spiked with vanilla vodka, something that Vijay helped create with us and was visibly excited about. 🙂

Mixing Jars 2

Filling personal jars to take home

Mixing Jars 3

Stuffing tea bags with strong, Assam tea

Mixing Jars and Drinking Chai

Sippin’ and mixin’

Mixing Jars

Hard at work!

Mixing Jars with Vijay Interaction

Vijay lending a hand and answering questions

All in all a successful night! People who came in skeptical about chai went away loving it and saying they’d stop by Tava just for the chai. Everybody got to have a real conversation with Vijay and felt like they formed a rare kind of relationship with Tava.

Empty Tava Jar

Empty jar

Filled Jar

Filled jar to take home 🙂

What’s next, you ask? Many more events with Tava and others like Turtle Tower, Samovar Tea Lounge, American Grilled Cheese Kitchen, and Radio Africa Kitchen! Tava is thinking of featuring their chutneys (yogurt raita, tamarind, cilantro, mint, among others!) or mango lassi, or hosting a “Tava laboratory” where you get to hop behind the counter, operate the cool tava, and mix and match ingredients to your heart’s desire.

Comment or email us with your suggestions!

Check out Tava on

Simmr | Simmr Event Page | Tava’s Site | Yelp San Francisco | Yelp Palo Alto | Facebook | Twitter

Check out Simmr on

Our Site | Facebook | Twitter | Foursquare

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