Eat Your Kimchi

What is Onigiri?

What is onigiri?

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!

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.