Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Onigiri: Honorable Rice Ball!

There is no more delicious and satisfying convenience food than the wonderful gem of Japanese cuisine, onigiri. For centuries, travelers have carried rice balls on short and long journeys, and today they are a beloved comfort food in Japan, where many specialty shops are devoted solely to the making and selling of onigiri.

Onigiri (also known as omusubi) can be very simple, consisting of nothing more than cooked rice, or they can be creative works of art which reflect the chef's imagination and skill. Rice balls always contain salt, tamari or pickled ingredients which act as preservatives, keeping the rice from spoiling. Pickled umeboshi plums are a favorite traditional filling.

Only short grain or medium grain rice should be used to make onigiri; long grain does not have the proper consistency. Although white rice is most popular, brown and black rice make flavorful, nutritious onigiri. Correctly cooked rice- not too soft or hard- is essential for the rice balls to retain their shape. Round, cylindrical and triangular shapes are made by hand but many varieties of inexpensive molds, one of which is seen in the photo above, are available with which anyone can make perfectly shaped rice balls.

Black rice makes stunningly beautiful onigiri. Unwrap one of these on an airplane and your seatmates will be terribly envious. Pack a handful of sliced raw vegetables and enjoy a healthy, inexpensive meal with roots in an ancient tradition. You will understand with the first bite why the honorific "O" is included in the spelling of onigiri, which means "honorable rice ball".