Portlanders in the food world will recognize it: an Oyatsupan milk bread sandwich, stuffed with pastel-yellow-and-green egg salad, a soft-boiled egg dripping in its center. It’s all over Instagram, photographed by food bloggers and Portland diners at an alarming rate. Some get a half-and-half, which includes a sandwich with a thin slab of katsu in its center, surrounded by a tangle of cabbage. Some add a side of curry pan or kara-age. But really, it’s all about the egg sandwich, yolk barely soaking one side of the bread, a half-moon of firm egg white.
The egg salad sando from Giraffe Goods has slowly begun to take over Portland’s food world, both on Instagram and among the larger food community in Portland. Any given visit to the hidden Japanese market, tucked within the larger Cargo artisan mall in Inner Southeast, may also include a run-in with one of the city’s critics or chefs, grabbing a quick sandwich and a bottle of Kewpie mayo for the home pantry.
Kana Hinohara Hanson and Gabe Rosen opened the deli in late 2018, months after closing the influential Portland izakaya Biwa. Portland Monthly’s Kelly Clarke was the first journalist to spot the market in December, but even before then, the egg salad sandwich was beginning to sell out before the day had ended.
Hanson and Rosen didn’t invent this style of egg salad sandwich. Inspired by the convenience store sandwiches in Japan, the egg salad is often the one tourists remember the most fondly. “I first noticed them a couple years ago,” Rosen says. “I had more and more friends and acquaintances that were starting to go on Japan for vacations, and one thing that I have always recommended to folks visiting Japan is that they eat the food at convenience stores... People kept coming back and telling me stories about these egg salad sandwiches.”
The sandwich grew in popularity after the late Anthony Bourdain began to sing their praises, calling the egg salad sandwiches from Japanese chain Lawson “pillows of love.” Many diners, however, reference the specific egg salad sandwiches at Japanese 7/11s, which have such a following that several recipe blogs have tried to recreate them.
Then, in October 2018, Konbi opened in Los Angeles’ Echo Park neighborhood. Konbi, a Japanese sandwich and pastry shop, quickly turned heads on Instagram for its egg salad sandwich, which included the soft-boiled egg at its center for eye-catching textural contrast. In January 2019, the New York Times published a story about the sandwich, which California restaurant critic Tejal Rao called “spectacular — and more intricate than the plastic-sealed sandwich that inspired it.”
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Have you been to @giraffegoods yet? Can you tell what this egg salad sandwich thinks of your answer? . This relatively new spot by the @biwapdx crew is tucked beautifully into a sunny corner of @cargoinc on the industrial inner east side. It’s quickly becoming one of my favorite spots for a casual but cozy lunch and to pick up amazing Japanese product. I love that I feel transported when I’m there. And compared to @uwajimaya, which has so much product I have trouble making decisions on what to buy, Giraffe’s well curated shelves are so easy to shop from, with helpful notes describing each product and why they carry it. Be sure to check out the cold case, where you’ll find lots of local product like @umiorganic noods, @wanpakunatto, local miso paste and more! . And don’t forget to try this pork katsu and egg salad combo sandwich. If they happen to be out, wander around @cargoinc for a bit and come back - they restock 2-3 times a day
Giraffe began serving their version of the sandwich in early December, two months after the Konbi sandwich debuted in Los Angeles. Theirs is a little different from the Konbi version; it ups its herb count with chopped parsley, and marinates its soft boiled egg in tamari, sake, konbu, and mirin. Hanson says they were working on the version of their sandwich independently before Konbi opened. “It was kind of zietgeist-y,” she says. “We probably came up with the same idea at the same time. The egg salad sandwich is so ubiquitous in Japan.” Oregonian critic Michael Russell says the two sandwiches seemed to emerge simultaneously. “I don’t know if there was just something in the water, or Calculus being invented at two places at the same time,” he says.
But what about the sandwich resonates so much with Portlanders? Giraffe co-owner Hanson has a theory. “As more people encounter day-to-day life in Japan and experience such things as the konbini (Japanese convenience stores), they see a new facet of Japan that isn’t well-represented here in the U.S.,” she says. “For people who have been to Japan, seeing the egg sando at Giraffe evokes nostalgia and transports them back to their time in Japan.”
Still, the influence of day-to-day Japanese culture and commerce continues to permeate the Portland market in new ways, from the opening of Japanese home goods store MUJI to the impending arrival of Tonari, the Japanese cafe opening next to Nodoguro on SE Belmont. “At Giraffe, we are really trying to get past the image of Japanese cuisine as this specialized rarefied thing and get at its more humanist and everyday qualities,” Rosen says. “And its great because Japan is coming here! Kana and I are really excited to see more and more everyday Japanese stuff become part of life in Portland.”
Even so, Hanson believes the success of the egg salad sando comes from a sort of universal nostalgia, beyond those with personal or familial ties to Japan. “There is an aspect of the egg salad sandwich that strikes nostalgia even for people who have not been to Japan, and this is a sort of nostalgia for one’s mother’s home cooked meals,” she says. “Who hasn’t been raised eating egg salad sandwiches?”
Correction: A previous version of this story claimed Giraffe Goods serves katsu outside of the sandwich. It serves kara-age.
• Curio-Cute Japanese Deli and Market Giraffe Opens Inside Cargo [PoMo]
• Echo Park’s New Japanese Sandwich Shop Is a Total Charmer [Eater LA]
• How to Make the Egg Salad Sandwich That Drew Eyes on Instagram [NYT]
• The Egg Salad Sandwich That Won Instagram in 2018 [Grub Street]