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The quintessential Japanese comfort food seen in almost every manga and anime is the Onigiri, the travel size ball of rice. You might remember the character Onigiri in Air Gear, as the character’s head resembles the rice ball, or if you were one of the many who grew up watching Pokemon, you might recognize these as oddly shaped “doughnuts” or “sandwiches”, which my friend is far from the truth!
Which made me ponder, what would our world be like if what we call doughnuts really were these oddly shaped and delectable rice balls? Would our trusty men in blue still be buying them in dozens? Would our beloved Homer Simpson replace his famous “Mmmm donuts *drool*” catch phrase with ” HAI! Onigiri Suki Desu Yo!” In fact, would we just get Mr. Sparkle instead? But I digress…
So, to much the protest of 4Kids, these rice balls are a delicious on-the-go meal which are so popular you can find them at any convenience store in Japan, packaged and ready to be eaten.
Now on to the actual food!
The top three most common Onigiri is the Umeboshi (pickled plum), Katsuobushi (shaved dried bonito fish flakes), and plain non-filled Onigiri. There is a vast selection you can put into your rice balls. I will go over the items being used in this article and explain other common ingredients that you’ll find inside a rice ball to give you an idea of what can be typically found in Japan.
The Rice- Very important! The type of rice you will want to use is a medium grain rice, preferably a Japanese strain of rice. The easiest to find in the markets would either be rice labeled as “Calrose” or “Sushi” style rice. Any other type of rice won’t work, since the smaller grains carry more starches lending to the rice grains sticking to each other.
Nori- Basically a sheet of thin dried seaweed. Most commonly used as the wrap for sushi and hand rolls, the nori creates a barrier between the rice and your hand. Think of it as delicious edible wrapping paper for your rice!
Umeboshi- Is a Japanese pickled plum usually with a pit in the very center. Very tart and sour, a perfect accompaniment to the neutral taste of the rice. Now the umeboshi is an acquired tasted and might be too strong for someone not use to such flavors but it is optional, but is a very traditional filling.
Bonito Flakes – Shaved fish flakes used in many many dishes in Japan. Not only is it the base for dashi stock it is also used as a garnish in many dishes from okonamiyaki, takoyaki, and on top of cold tofu. Here it is used as a filling mixed with a scant amount of soy sauce.
Other Fillings- Other popular fillings would be salted salmon, canned tuna mixed with a little bit of mayo (and sometimes wasabi), pieces of fried chicken, or tempura shrimp. Another popular way to make onigiri is to mixe furikake into the rice. Furikake is a dried seasoning topping for rice. It is usually a mix of nori, sesame seeds, and bonito flakes but the flavors are plentiful. They sell teriyaki flavored furikaki, or ones with eggs, shrimp, salmon, or ume.
Now that you have a brief knowledge of ingredients, it’s time to assemble.
Step 1: The most crucial and obvious of steps is the making of the rice. There are two ways you can do this, on the stove top or inside a rice cook. The best directions to use is on the bag of rice but if you do happen to forget a good rule for Japanese style rice is 1:1.5 ratio, meaning 1 part rice to 1.5 part water. This is what I use and find adequet but it, again, can vary.
Step 2: While the rice is cooling off it is a good time to prepare and layout your filling. Pretty simple right?
Step 3: Now it’s time to form your rice into pretty shapes. I use a mold like these because I’m lazy and have no patience in making perfect triangle shapes but feel free to try your luck by free forming it. What you would do first is to dampen your hands in salted water (the only seasoning the rice would be getting) then grab a nice handful of rice. Next you create a hole in the center and put in your filling then close it up into a ball and shape. As you can see I just put the rice in the mold then created a hold for the filling, fill a little more rice then press the mold together.
Step 4: NORI! Add your nori around the whole thing on on a little section of the onigiri. This helps to keep your hands free of sticky rice and it tastes good.
Now all you need to do is take this to Sempai in the hopes that he will return your love and affections and you both can run off into the sunset together! If sempai rejects you then you can drown your sorrows in the bitter sweet deliciousness of your onigiris as your tears continue to flavor your balls of rice!