A fine-dining chef brings finesse and portable snacks to this pocket-sized inner-city Japanese spot.
The counter at Parami is lined with onigiri – a portable snack that’s sustained Japanese appetites for more than 2000 years. These rice parcels have been pressed into portable shapes over the centuries: given to nobility, packed as military rations, sold to train passengers and featured in school lunches.
Reaching for onigiri in the fridges of 7-Eleven and the other konbini (convenience stores) is still a popular move in Japan today and co-owner Mika Kazato says this ritual inspired her cafe.
If you look at her menu, it’s also imprinted with her upbringing in Oita, in Japan’s Kyushu region. “This reminds me of my mum,” the chef says, referring to the umeboshi onigiri she sells at Parami. It feels more personal than the mass-produced, plastic-wrapped version at konbini outlets – where plain rice is pressed into a pyramid, simply studded with a sour plum centre and crisply wrapped in seaweed.
The chef’s version has a confetti-like mix of ingredients, vividly sprinkled throughout: tart umeboshi shreds, the salty-sweet tang of shiso powder, the nutty hit of sesame seeds and savoury dose of kombu seaweed. The takana onigiri, which is bright with pickled mustard greens, also has a cheering generosity. Both flavours evoke the ingredient-jammed onigiri Kazato’s mum would press into her bento lunchbox – and that thoughtfulness translates to Parami, too.
Kazato has worked at Aria, Chiswick and Bills, so her interpretations of staples are finely tuned: the creamy, egg-mayo mix fills the bread in an exacting, high-impact way.
Other memories power the menu: salmon onigiri recalls her childhood mornings eating highly salted fish (shiozake) with rice for breakfast, while yaki imo biscuits evoke winter days spent wrapping sweet potatoes from her grandma’s garden in wet newspaper and foil, then charring these parcels in the fireplace.
Parami’s tamago-pan (egg-salad roll) chronicles the on-the-go rush of grabbing egg sandwiches from konbini shelves or unboxing a bento version her mum prepared for school lunches.
Sweets include matcha muffins and shingen mochi (glutinous cakes given a caramel hit of Okinawan cane sugar syrup and the toasted edge of roasted soy bean flavour – a classic combination that McDonald’s Japan once turned into an apple pie). The drinks menu takes you on an express tour of Japan’s tea regions – do try the cold-brew gyokuro: a uniquely umami-loaded tea, which tastes like a savoury, seaweed-topped meal, and is sourced from Uji, Kyoto.
The sodas are literally bright: the neon-pink shiso drink gets its colour from the herb’s red leaves and lemon juice. For a citrus hit, try the yuzu soda, which has a bracing buzz and is splashed with brown sugar syrup.
Kazato has worked at Aria, Chiswick and Bills, so her interpretations of staples are finely tuned: the creamy, egg-mayo mix fills the bread in an exacting, high-impact way. Each bite brings such overwhelming comfort, it requires you to pause.
Parami is in Surry Hills, on the CBD borderline. “You just go another hundred metres and you can find another cafe and you can get a sandwich,” she says. “That’s why I choose not to do sandwiches.”
This oversupply of toast and white bread is a good reason to institute her ban, but her menu does inspire a culinary debate. Is a hot dog a sandwich? Endless Google results (and a podcast named after this question) don’t settle the dispute, but that hasn’t stopped her adding a hot dog to her menu. The chef squiggles tomato sauce and mustard over the Japanese sausage in calligraphic ways: she wants her food to look “like an animation”. And it does, dazzling the eye like a Studio Ghibli movie.
You could say the same thing about Kazato’s fruit sandwiches, where peaches or strawberries artfully top creamy frills of mascarpone. Traditionally, fruit sandos (as they’re called) showcase jewel-like fruit between thick cuts of a shokupan loaf. But by remodelling the format, and directing the fillings vertically into rolls instead of sliced bread, perhaps that’s the loophole dodge that allows the chef to enact her sandwich ban and feature these joyous fruit sandos at her cafe.
I’m happy with this technicality: however you choose to define these menu items, I’m glad they’re here.
I feel the same way about Parami.
Vibe: Parami has the hidden-gem charm and look of a Tokyo laneway cafe. It trades in beautifully packaged onigiri, from umeboshi to chashu (slow-cooked pork belly) given the zing of chilli sauce.
Insta-worthy dish: The strawberry and cream fruit sandwich, which you could imagine a character savouring in a Studio Ghibli film.
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