The Japanese Delicacy (IX): Onigiri
Onigiri, also known as Omusubi, is a traditional Japanese food. It is a rice ball wrapped in nori (dried seaweed). It is easy to make, nutritious, and delicious. In Japan, onigiri is an ideal food for picnics and travel because it is easy to carry many of them.
What is Onigiri
Onigiri is made from steamed rice and compressed into triangular, spherical, cylindrical, or irregular shapes, such as cats and dogs. There are different ways to wrap nori: you can completely cover the rice ball with the nori or cut nori into strips and then wrap it around the rice ball. Wrapping the rice ball when it is hot makes the nori soft and moist, and wrapping it when the rice is cold will keep the nori crisp.
In 1978, 7-11, a chain of retail convenience stores, took the lead in commercializing onigiri. 7-11 put the onigiri and seaweed separately in special triangular plastic bags to keep the seaweed crunchy. Before eating, the customer only needs to tear the plastic package off and combine the rice and nori. Since then, onigiri has become one of the major products in Japanese convenience stores.
Onigiri is sometimes misunderstood as a type of sushi, which it is not. One of the main differences between onigiri and sushi is that onigiri is made with pure rice, while sushi is made with rice seasoned with vinegar, salt, and sugar. Onigiri makes rice easy to carry and preserve, while sushi is a way to preserve fish.
History of Onigiri
Onigiri was considered to be the earliest travel snack. In the Heian period (794-1185), salty and sour ingredients were added to preserve the rice longer. Then, the rice was shaped into a rectangle and stacked on a plate. The onigiri in the Heian period was called tonjiki, which was served to officials and used as gifts.
With the addition of pickled plums, onigiri became the military rations of the Kamakura period (1192-1333). Onigiri was initially eaten directly without any seaweed wrapping. It was not until the middle of the Edo period (1603-1867) when the Japanese learned to farm seaweed that the rice ball began to be wrapped in nori. During the Edo period, onigiri became a popular food available to everyone. In 1885, it was the first food approved for sale on Japan's railway lines.
Recipes of Onigiri
The basic onigiri requires only two ingredients: cooked rice and nori. Cool the freshly cooked rice on a baking sheet to cool it down. Wet your hands and put salt on your hand, knead the rice and shape them into an ideal form you like. You can enjoy your onigiri after wrapping it in nori. In addition to salt, you can also season the rice with dried bonito flakes, sesame seeds, seaweed, sugar, and so on.
Onigiri can be filled with everything you like. You can even add fried chicken or fruit to it. Next, I will share with you the most common onigiri fillings in Japan.
Shake: salted salmon
Umeboshi: pickled plums
Okaka: bonito flakes dipped in soy sauce
Kombu: stewed seaweed
Tuna Mayonnaise: canned tuna with mayonnaise
Tarako: salted cod roe