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Hi, it’s Yuto (@sudachi.recipe) again.
What is Onigiri?
Wherever you're from, there must be some lunch box dish right?
It could be sandwiches in some countries, maybe something else elsewhere?
In Japan, it's safe to say that the most lunch boxy food is Onigiri Rice Balls. If you ever come to Japan, you could find it in supermarkets, convenience stores, bento shops...etc
You probably often see it in Japanese TV dramas, films and anime too.
Definition of Onigiri
So what is Onigiri?
It is literally cooked rice shaped into a triangle (sometimes cylinder or sphere)
The beauty of it, is the fact that you can put anything inside the ball.
So you can be very classic, creative or even over the top like putting fried chicken or steak in it! There's literally no rule, anything goes!
Popular Onigiri Fillings
As it's very a versatile food, people enjoy putting many kinds of fillings in onigiri rice balls.
The most popular onigiri filling ranking in Japan is:
- Salmon (鮭)
- Seasoned cod roe (辛子明太子)
- Hard cod roe (たらこ)
- Salted plum (梅)
- Seasoned kombu seaweed (昆布)
- Tuna mayo (ツナマヨネーズ)
- Seasoned bonito flakes (おかか)
- Seasoned rice (炊き込みご飯)
- Takana (高菜)
- Fried onigiri (焼きおにぎり)
As well as these popular ones above, there are creative (arguably) ones! Such as:
- Dried tomato
- Fried chicken
Origin and history of Onigiri
Onigiri is commonly and historically know as different names such as:
- Nigiri (にぎり)
- Nigiri meshi (にぎりめし)
- Musubi (むすび)
- Omusubi (おむすび)...etc
The origin is not so clear because the first possible trace of Onigiri goes all the way back to BC! Ridiculous right?
This could even be the most ancient Japanese dish!
Onigiri is very portable. That's why in medieval times, Onigiri rice balls were military supply food, and now it's one of the most popular lunch box foods.
Commonly asked questions
What rice do you use for onigiri?
It's best to use Japanese white rice or sushi rice to make onigiri. The sticky texture means it will hold its shape. Long grain and brown rice doesn't really work BUT some people do mix the sticky rice with brown rice or grains to make it a bit healthier. It might be harder to shape though.
Do you eat onigiri with chopsticks?
Nope! You eat it with your hands. We wrap the nori to stop the rice sticking to our hands but you can also just hold it in the plastic wrap if you don't like nori.
Is onigiri the same as sushi?
Onigiri is different to sushi. Sushi rice is mixed with sushi vinegar whereas onigiri rice balls are made with simple salted rice. They are also shaped differently, onigiri is bigger and uses more rice. Lastly the fillings of onigiri are wrapped in the rice. With sushi, fish or vegetables are usually placed on top or rolled in so that they are still visible.
How do you keep the onigiri soft?
The best way to make sure you eat a soft and delicious onigiri, is to eat it on the day that you make it without putting it in the fridge. Saying that, some people like to prepare their lunch the night before but find that the rice has gone hard after being stored in the fridge. If you wrap the ongiri in plastic wrap, then again in a towel or kitchen paper, it won't get as cold and so won't become so hard.
Onigiri Rice Balls with Chicken Mince
Japanese fried chicken mince is very popular for a lot of dishes such as Chicken Mince and Egg Donburi (3色丼ぶり)
You can mix this mince with rice to make a tasty Chicken mince rice ball!
Although fish and seafood fillings are the most popular for rice balls, it's nice to have something different and a great alternative for people who don't like fish!
It's sweet and a bit meaty so it's surely very different from the other recipes we have on our site.
If you'd like something different, it's worth a try!
And if you like this Japanese style fried chicken mince, check out our Sanshoku Donburi for more ideas how to use it in other dishes!