Sushi and ramen have been Japanese staples in the Bay Area for decades now, while one of the latest food trends to dock on this side of the Pacific are rice balls, or omusubi. La Cocina incubator program participant Erika Sanchez has been making omusubi since she was a child, and she’s just about ready to get her food truck, Tokachi Musubi, rolling through the Bay Area.
Sanchez told The Standard she plans to debut the roving restaurant at SF Pitch Night, a gathering of entrepreneurs—fittingly, from the Bay Area and Japan—on Feb. 23 at The Firehouse at Fort Mason.
Called omusubi, onigiri or nigirimeshi depending on the region of Japan, these round or triangular balls of rice are filled with fish or meat and wrapped in dried seaweed, or nori. In Sanchez’s home region of Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan, they’re most commonly called omusubi.
Sanchez said she decided to name her business after her hometown of Tokachi and, of course, her namesake rice balls. The word also translates to “connection,” which is fitting, as she originally learned how to make omusubi from her mother.
“I want to make a connection between my hometown and San Francisco, which is now my second hometown,” she said.
She fills her omusubi with a variety of ingredients commonly found at izakayas throughout Japan—karaage (fried chicken), pork, shrimp tempura and ikura (salmon caviar).
Sanchez moved to San Francisco in 2013 after living briefly in Spain, and before that, Tokyo and Sapporo. She told The Standard that her love of American film and music—Rob Reiner’s Stand by Me and Madonna are among her favorites—partly inspired the big move. Now, Sanchez calls the Outer Richmond home.
The 41-year-old chef got her feet wet in the SF restaurant industry at a Mid-Market bar called Izakaya Roku, and later, a food truck called Kurotaka Ramen, which have both since shuttered. Sanchez said the pandemic put her culinary career at a momentary standstill until she resolved to open her own business. In 2022, she lit on the idea to open a food truck.
“But I had no idea how to start,” she said. Taking advice from a friend, she applied to La Cocina, a culinary incubator program based in the Mission that works primarily with low-income women restaurateurs of color. La Cocina has helped launch over 130 businesses helmed by chefs that include James Beard Award semifinalist Reem Assil and Fernay McPherson, whose soul food kitchen, Minnie Bell’s, now operates out of Emeryville.
Sanchez said that La Cocina was instrumental in launching Tokachi Musubi. “It’s a great group. They made me feel very included.”
Next, she operated as a pop-up, mostly catering private events. With the launch of the food truck, Sanchez said she’s excited to reach more people across the Bay Area. After SF Pitch Night, she said she hopes to find a permanent parking spot at Spark Social in Mission Bay.
Sanchez said that Tokachi Musubi is one way she can express her love and gratitude to San Francisco.
“I moved here as a single mother,” she said. “Many people in the city helped us, and that’s why I want to contribute to my community. I wasn’t sure I could survive, but here I am after nine years.”