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What is Onigiri?

January 27, 2017

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Oh look! It’s a FOOD TL;DR! I know a lot of you have been missing out on our TL;DRs lately, but since we had just moved to Japan, we didn’t really know enough to make a TL;DR. If you look at when we started doing our TL;DRs in Korea, it was after we felt like we had enough info to share with other people. Now that we’ve been here a year, we’ve started to compile a list of interesting things we’ve observed and we’re preparing to return with our TL;DR segments.

We’re starting out our TL;DR segment with an unusual style of video. I (Martina) have been really inspired as of late to make some informational food videos about Japanese food that aren’t boring. For example, there is SO much to learn about the ramen world that we need to do a TL;DR on the differences between all the ramen types in Japan instead of just diving into a FAPFAP and trying to explain all the fine details of what makes a ramen broth unique. My next goal will be to explain that, since I’ve been researching and learning all about that!

Onto onigiri!

I experienced my first onigiri, or as I called it at the time, a rice ball, when I was very young. My neighbour Miki just moved into our neighbourhood from Japan, and we became close friends immediately. I hung out a lot at her house, accidentally teaching her about Canadian culture while she accidentally introduced me to Japanese culture. We were too young at the time to understand how we were influencing each other, and frankly, we were just happy to play.

The smell of steamed rice and other unusual flavours always lingered in the air when in her kitchen, and her mom used to prepare us Japanese food and snacks as we played. When I first bit into a rice ball, my mouth was shocked at all the amazing flavours I was tasting. What is this crispy black stuff?? What is this colourful yellow stuff?? Why does this rice taste different than my mom’s rice?

It was a wonderful experience and from then onwards, Miki’s mom made me rice balls as snacks when playing with Miki. On every birthday, she would make me a special high-class rice ball and I was always so excited to try it! This tradition continued until I was in University. When I got older, Miki told me that in Tokyo, the rice ball is everywhere and just a normal, cheap snack. I just couldn’t believe it. Please keep in mind, the internet was just starting at the time, so I couldn’t just jump online and google it. Youtube didn’t even exist then!

She would tell me stories about her summers spent in Japan, and I vowed one day I would visit and experience all this for myself. That’s why the rice ball, nay, the onigiri, is so close to my heart. Maybe it’s just the plain old peanut butter sandwich of Japan, but it feels like more than that to me. To me, it was the first bite of an onigiri that introduced my little child mind to the concept that, yes, there is a big world outside of my little realm and guess what? I intend to explore it.

Alright, enough of my childhood flashbacks, onto onigiri (お握り or 御握り or just in all hiragana おにぎり ) which is also known as omusubi (お結び or おむすび).

Quick point on the difference between Onigiri & Omusubi: I’m actually not really sure about this, but here are two theories I found. Basically, Onigiri and Omusubi are completely interchangeable, and their names are simply regional, like how some people use the term “hot dog” or “weiner,” or “eggplant” or “aubergine,” or “skim milk” and “disgusting gross crap water” interchangeably. That’s one theory. Another theory is that Omusubi is just for triangle shaped rice balls, while Onigiri can have any shape, ball or triangle or tube or whatnot. Both omusubi and onigiri, however, have the same rough definition, which is “rice pressed together to form… something”.

This “something” is such a magic delicious mouthful of all the right flavours. For the purposes of this video, I went to Family Mart (which is a Japanese convenience store) and bought soooo many different types, but I’d like to say that there are many more flavours available. I left out some major ones, like Salmon Roe, Umeboshi (pickled plum), beef, and so on.

If you’re in Japan and interested in trying out onigiri, I made a small chart that will explain what all the onigiri I used in the video are all about. My Japanese friend gave me a detailed break down of the kanji for me so that you could learn what it all means! I’m on that learning train too…haha!

Though, I still think it’s always fun to grab something and not know what it is and then try it out, if you’re feeling less adventurous, then I hope this chart will help :D.

Let me know if you have tried onigiri before and what it was like!

Onigiri Chart

①(炙り焼)紅鮭はらみ
(あぶりやき)べにざけはらみ
(Aburiyaki) Benizake Harami
(Quick grilled) Sockeye salmon back. This is a thicker piece of salmon and I find it to be heartier than the flaked variety.

②半熟煮玉子(鶏そぼろごはん)
はんじゅくたまご(とりそぼろごはん)
Hanjuku Nitama (Tori Soboro Gohan)
Soft-boiled egg (chicken Soboro rice)
※Soboro is ground meat cooked with seasonings, such as soy sauce and sugar. The magic soft-boiled egg inside is like the egg you find in a delicious ramen. Simon lived off this one the first time we can to Japan.

③(炙り焼)海老ドリア
(あぶりやき)えびドリア
(Aburiyaki) Ebi Doria
(Quick grilled) shrimp Doria
※Doria is a Japanese version of gratin! It’s prepared with rice, and this one is filled with grilled shrimp, and a melty white cheese like sauce. Kindof like a cheap béchamel sauce. Make sure you heat this one up in the microwave.

④わかめごはん(茎わかめ入り)
わかめごはん(くきわかめいり)
Plain old seaweed rice (rice with steamed and chopped seaweed).

⑤醤油焼 おむすび
しょうゆやき おむすび
Shoyuyaki Omusubi
Grilled soy sauce rice ball
※Omusubi is another way to say Onigiri. This one is also cooked w/ Bonito flakes, but then grilled and glazed with a thick soy sauce.

⑥とり五目
とりごもく
Tori Gomoku
Chicken Gomoku
※Gomoku is often called a five vegetable Japanese rice stew (flavourful broth and seasonal ingredients).

⑦(せいろ蒸し)赤飯
せいろむし せきはん
Seiromushi Sekihan
Steamed Sekihan
※Seiromushi is steamed food in steamer basket
Sekihan is sticky rice steamed with adzuki beans, which give a reddish color to the rice, hence its name. It is said to bring good luck and fortune to those who eat it, enjoyed during celebrations. Make sure you get a drink with this one because it always dries my mouth out. So…dense…like…peanut butter with no milk…

⑧(炙り焼)ベーコン
(あぶりやき)ベーコン
(Aburiyaki) Bacon
(Quick grilled) bacon
※This one is made with garlic butter rice…oh yeah baby…and a huge slab of Japanese style “bacon” which just means it doesn’t have that smokey flavour I’m used to Canadian bacon having. This tastes more like giant ham slab. I also recommend warming this up for a bit.

⑨ごまむすび おかか沢庵
ごまむすび おかかたくあん
Goma Musubi Okaka Takuan
Sesame rice ball w/ shaved bonito & takuan
※Takuan is the Japanese pickled daikon radish
This one also has red pepper seasoning in it, and I love love the crunch and creaminess of all the sesame seeds.

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What is Onigiri?

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  1. I think, my first onigiri was not until I saw it in Main Street Flushing, Queens (NYS, USA). I am not sure if it was Chinese or Japanese because it is still confusing to me as to who the people exactly are from. If that was onigiri, then it tasted really nice and caring/loving. If that was not the one, then I can only mention the triangle one that I ate from 32nd & Broadway (Kway/Ktown). That one tasted nice too. I’m not really picky. Just don’t give me something that still has their poo, whiskers or eyeballs still intact, lol. I am creeped out by that.

    8 months ago
  2. I made my own first onigiri, from instructions I found online. I’ll usually put some stir-fried carrot or mushrooms in, and some furikake sprinkled on the outside. If I feel fancy, I’ll cook up some chicken as well for the filling.

    Back when I was rooming with anime convention staffers, they would bring their own fillings for me to make for them, usually canned salmon or the like. (I always brought a rice cooker.)

    9 months ago
  3. Hi Martina, I liked this video. It was super cute and well done and concisely informative with just the right amount of laughs sprinkled in. As someone who has done stop-motion animation (a loooooong time ago), all I can say is WTF?! Only 10 hours?! Maybe 10 hours of FILMING, what about editing, huh? Bet that took you a long time too! Oh well, thank your pretty stars for modern video editing software, I’m sure it made it tons easier, but I can totally appreciate all the time, love, sweat, and tears that it took to make this video even though it’s under 3 minutes long ^_^v – you go girl!! If you are planning on making more of these (MORE?!!!! THINK OF YOUR HEALTH GIRL!), here are a few comments to think about for next time: 1) This lovely video could easily have been a G-rating, and super fun for kids (as well as adults) except for the two f-words that you bleeped out (and perhaps the “I’m going to kill you” joke), was it really necessary to include them? Could you have put something a little less harsh but more creative in and still had a great video? I think you could have, and still stayed true to Martina. 2) I appreciate that there might not be a lot to describe about an onigiri’s taste, but for people who don’t usually eat them, rice in this format is foreign. Is the rice like bread? Is it wet, creamy, dry, crunchy, can it be stale like an old sandwich? etc. 3) The little sumo onigiri at the end was such a great ender but the link square taking up 1/4 of the screen kind of killed its impact, you could have put the link at the end or in a corner and had a better ending, 4) speaking of endings, I could tell that you had a cold, but you kind of trailed off your sentence there on the last scene instead of making a definite “period” or “exclamation” at the end which kind of felt unfulfilling. A note about the blog too, the photo of the 9 onigiri is so large that I have to scroll really far back and forth to check the pic and read the description, maybe 3 at a time might have made for easier reading, especially on a phone (I’m not on a phone but I can imagine that it’s worse than a big screen). I did really appreciate all the background noises and music choices for all the descriptions and those triangles/diamonds really made the onigiri look fresh and tasty. Good luck on the next one! :)

    9 months ago
  4. My first onigiri was in Okinawa, Japan. I was wandering Kokusai St alone and after spending all my cash on souvenirs, I had very little cash left fot lunch so I went to the convienience store and got a small salad, coke and the only onigiri I could read “Tamago.” Thinking it would have like egg salad or omelette in it… i dug in! And regretted instantly. It was a raw egg yoke. I wasnt ready! Hahahaha Good memories!

    9 months ago
  5. I like how you used stop motion for this video ^-^! My first onigiri was from a ramen shop in Florida. It had plum in the center and was delicious. However it was a poor choice to consume it after finishing a bowl of udon…never again.

    9 months ago
  6. My first onigiri had umeboshi inside. That was also my first time trying umeboshi. Surprise sour taste!!!! I loved it though. It was very memorable to me. The guy at the Japanese restaurant said they only sell those onigiri to their brave customers. I was like “Give it to me, I can take it!” I was trying to act all tough and show my love for Japanese food. Thank goodness I ate it in the privacy of my own home so he did not see my sour face. lol! Good times!

    9 months ago
  7. Vic

    Whoa!
    Really great video! So good quality, fun and entertaining!

    9 months ago
  8. Ahhh onigiri is so delicious although my first time tasting it wasn’t the best experience. It was in our high school anime club and one of the founding members brought in onigiri to share but it was umeboshi (which I am still not a fan of)….but man do I love tuna/mayo flavour <3

    Also the video was fantastic great job Martina, Dan (and Simon?)

    9 months ago
  9. What an awesome video!! Thank you for working on it for 10 hours, it was incredible! :)

    9 months ago
  10. This was really fun to watch and I really loved learning about all the different kinds of things that can go in or around onigiri!

    My first onigiri was probably the ones I made myself. In a triangle(ish) shape, I made stuffed vinegared rice with tuna& mayo OR with seasoned beef. Both were yummy but not as magical as you describe yours. The rice wasn’t uber flavorful and I’m not a fan of Nori (korean Kim though is amazing) so the only flavor came from the tuna inside. It was also really filling which surprised me a lot. I made 2 and some other stuff to go into a bento for a long bus ride and ended up only being able to finish one. Haha.

    anywho! I’d love to see more videos like this (topic and style)!

    Also – I’d steal that sandwich too! looked so yummy

    9 months ago
  11. I ABSOLUTELY LOVED this new video style! Your hard work really payed off, Martina!
    Aaaaand now I’m craving oniguiri with none to be had. Cruel, cruel life.

    9 months ago
  12. Magical is a great word but you use it a lot. A lot a lot. Here is a list of options that may or may not be appropriate every time but it would be different: bewitching, charismatic, clairvoyant, conjuring, demoniac, diabolic, eerie, enchanted, enchanting, ensorcelled, entranced, entrancing, extraordinary,fascinating, fiendish, ghostly, haunted, imaginary, magnetic, marvelous, miraculous, mysterious,mystic, mythical, necromantic, occult, otherworldly, parapsychological, runic, sorcerous, spectral,
    spellbinding, spellbound,spiritualistic, spooky, telekinetic, thaumaturgic, tranced, uncanny, unusual, weird, witching, witchlike,
    wizardly, wonderful.
    I am very fond of ensorcelled and thaumaturgic myself, but they are difficult to work into a sentence.

    9 months ago
  13. This video is really cool! I love learning about Japanese culture and you guys always make it so interesting and funny. I haven’t tried onigiri yet (I live in Flanders, Belgium, so there isn’t much choice in Japanese food) but will keep searching for it! The fact that you put so much effort into making this video makes me appreciate it all the more! I’d love to see one about ramen!

    9 months ago
  14. I LOVE THIS VIDEO! I’m sad that it took you so long to make but I think it’s a beautiful piece of art. I’d like to see more!

    9 months ago
  15. I love onigiri. It’s one of my favorite food in Japan. It’s convenient and cheap. I also like chazuke. Sometimes, I just buy an onigiri then add some warm broth and toppings to make my own chazuke at home.

    9 months ago