This may seem like a silly blog topic, but we will talk about a very popular — and tasty — Japanese snack food: onigiri. I thought about this today as I was eating my onigiri lunch. When we came here 3 years ago, one of the first “snack” foods we discovered was the simple rice ball. Rice, of course, is a staple food here in Japan, and the most popular type is “sticky rice.” It is a short grain rice, with a lot of starch on the outside, and, because of all that extra starch, it tends to stick together in clumps. this is actually good when you are eating with chopsticks, because the clumps of rice are much easier to pick up with chopsticks than the separate long grain rice that is more common in the US.
Also, that stickiness makes it easy to form it into balls that can easily be packed and carried in a lunch box, or backpack or purse. These wonderful balls of rice are often filled with various things like cooked meats or fish, or sweetened red bean paste, fish roe, or natto (future blog post?)
There are many forms of these rice balls… some are toasted, but most commonly they are wrapped in sheets of dried nori (seaweed). The dried seaweed, along with being tasty, is helpful to keep the “sticky” rice from sticking to fingers while you eat the rice ball. But… because the moisture in the rice would make the dried nori sheets damp and messy in themselves, additional wrapping is required. The Japanese — being incredibly inventive people, have come up with an ingenious wrapping method for onigiri.
This is an onigiri “rice ball”. They are available in all the grocery stores and convenience stores for about 100 yen (less than a dollar). I bought this one from a local Lawson conbini (convenience store). I have sampled the onigiri from many stores in the past three years, and this is my favorite. Lol… Lawson’s has a nice “rice to filling” ratio, and is my preferred source. Note that this rice ball is basically triangular in shape. Not all are triangular, but most are.
This one actually has the English for what the filling is… some stores do, and some stores don’t. No matter… we can read the Japanese. But… this one also has a different Japanese name than most! Reading down, top to bottom, left to right: マヨネーズ = mayonaise (ma-yo-ne–zu) is pretty straight forward. Tuna, in katakana is usually: ツナ (tsu-na). But in this case they spelled it: shi — チキン. (Sorry… Google Translate won’t show the first character in katakana, and I don’t have a Japanese keyboard.) I think, that what they were going for was “sea — chicken”. You, know… as in “Chicken of the Sea”… lol. Anyway… my favorite filling for onigiri is tuna and mayo.
Also, notice the numbers on each corner of the triangle… 1 — 2 — 3. These are very important in knowing how to open the onigiri properly. There is an extra layer of cellophane between the nori seaweed,and the rice ball — thus keeping the nori dry and crisp until you want to eat the onigiri. I have to admit that the first time we ate onigiri here, we unwrapped it wrong, and made a total mess of it… even though there is a label on the bottom with pictures showing how to unwrap it properly. So… here is how to unwrap an onigiri rice ball properly:
First step is to pull tab “1” down and all the way around the onigiri, completely removing it.
Then pull the flap next to the number “2” straight out to the right. This removes the cellophane between the rice and the nori.
Repeat on the other side with flap number “3”… and you are left with a rice ball wrapped in nice, crisp nori.
Eat the onigiri by holding it with the nori. Tasty filling inside, chewy rice, and crispy nori on the outside! Yum. Oishii desu!