Some people enjoy cooking as a leisurely pastime to relax. If you're not one of those people, Emily Mariko's salmon bowl recipe is about to change that.
The 29-year-old, Japanese American lifestyle content creator from the Bay Area, California, expanded her TikTok following into the millions after she posted a video of her making a salmon and rice bowl, a Japanese classic. Her version includes a leftover salmon fillet, a scoop of leftover white rice, an ice cube (yes, an ice cube — we'll come back to that later), soy sauce, Sriracha, Japanese Kewpie mayo and, to serve, sliced avocado, kimchi and roasted seaweed snacks.
Sounds simple, right? Well, it is, which is part of its popularity. But there's something more about this dish that makes it stand out among the galaxy of other few-step cooking videos on TikTok.
Mariko first posted the dish on TikTok on Aug. 25 with the caption, "Always how I eat leftover salmon." In it, she makes the recipe, only without the Kewpie, avocado and ice cube. After some users suggested she add them, she redid the video with the new ingredients on Sept. 21, which skyrocketed the home cook to social media stardom. The TikTok now has over 45 million views and inspired legions of people — including Lizzo — to make copycat dishes.
This millennial vlogger now has legions of followers who freak out when she posts a video making salmon for dinner because they know what's coming for lunch the next day.
"y'all know what tomorrow is... 😏🧊," one user commented on one of her salmon dinner demos, including the ice cube emoji to allude to Mariko's trick of using an ice cube to steam the rice in the microwave.
After watching the video many times, I had to test out the recipe to experience the viral sensation first-hand and better understand why it gained the reputation it did. Here's what I discovered.
First up: The ingredients. In addition to avocado, all the common Japanese condiments and toppings can be found at most grocery stores and Asian markets. If you haven't tried Kewpie, this is key. The color and consistency is similar to American mayos, but it doesn't have lemon juice, potato starch or other additives and preservatives. It also contains red wine vinegar, rice vinegar and mustard flour so it has this smooth, savory flavor that brings a subtle creaminess when mixed into the rice.
Then, it was time to mash the salmon. I really pressed my fork down into the pieces until they broke part and mushed together. I then added a a scoop of cold rice (Mariko shared in another video her favorite type is Koshihikari organic white short grain rice), formed it into a loose ball on top of the mashed salmon, created a small well in the middle with a spoon and placed an ice cube on top.
I took a sheet of parchment paper and molded it around the rice ball and sides of the plate. The ice cube helps create steam inside so, when microwaved, the rice and salmon stay moist rather than drying out. I usually add butter or oil to my rice when I reheat it, but this is going to be my new trick, as it worked amazingly.
I microwaved my dish for 1½ minutes, which was perfect. It came out steaming, and the ice cube was mostly still intact, so I removed it, just like Mariko.
Next, it was sauce time (the best time). As Mariko did, I splashed a good amount of soy sauce on top of the rice until it was mostly brown. Then, I zig-zagged a drizzle of Kewpie and Sriracha on top.
Ready to mix! I transferred all of my contents into my serving bowl and combined the mixture together thoroughly, making sure all that creamy, spicy sauce is well-integrated into the rice and salmon.
Once it's all mixed together, I added the sliced avocado to the bowl, placed a couple scoops of kimchi in a side bowl and grabbed a container of roasted seaweed snacks.
At last: the taste test. Chopsticks are optimal to assemble each bite so you can lay a bite of avocado on the rice, add a little piece of kimchi on top and then delicately (because we all aspire to be as graceful as Mariko), pluck a seaweed sheet and fold it around the bite.
Oh, yes. A million times, yes. The dish lives up to the hype.
Packed with umami flavor, the rice and salmon mixture is tender and slightly sweet paired with the other ingredients. The avocado adds that smooth, buttery element that only avocado can, while the kimchi adds funk, spice and acid. The roasted seaweed adds the crunch factor and even more umami. It's impossible not to keep going back for more until the bowl is clean.
As many may have noticed, Mariko doesn't use music over her cooking videos or even use voice narration. At first, I didn't love the squishing sound of the salmon breaking down, but when I made it myself, I realized it's all a part of the Mariko phenomenon. Similarly to how people find serenity watching ASMR videos, raking sand in a Zen garden or squeezing a stress ball, Mariko's salmon bowl prep is like a mental massage. Like preparing a cup of loose-leaf tea, the salmon bowl requires intention but practically no effort. As you make the meal over the course of a few minutes, the whole process is deeply satisfying and provides a calming effect.
The dish is ideal for a quick lunch or dinner using leftovers, where you can enjoy roasted salmon with rice and veggies, just like Mariko, and then transform it into a salmon bowl for the next day.
I made the dish at the end of a busy weekday when the house was quiet. I finished work (well, minus photographing this dish), made my kids dinner and put them to bed, working up an appetite in the process. I felt the stresses of life melt away as I mashed the salmon, smoothed the parchment paper over the rice and assembled each bite of ingredients.
This will definitely be a dish I return to when I'm short on time, but more importantly, when I just want to have my moment of Zen while eating lunch.