Japan was full of new, unique and amazing foods for me to try and I wish I’d had to try them all. Alas, many are reliant on seasons. Thank goodness my favorite wasn’t. My favorite food while traveling in Japan is available all year round and it’s the simplest thing to make. Even if you don’t want to make it, you can pick up pre-made ones in the grocery store or 7/11. What’s my favorite food, you ask? Why onigiri of course!
This little snack comes in so many different flavors that I think it’s impossible to try them all (especially when you don’t read Japanese and have no idea which flavors you’ve already tried :p). Yet, the most basic form of onigiri is plain, white, sticky rice packed tightly into the shape of a triangle. In this format, it’s easy to hold and eat: no utensils required. Yet, plain white rice is kind of tasteless, which is why the Japanese have devised tons of different flavors starting with a basic onigiri made of fried rice instead of white rice.
Some of the most common, homemade forms of onigiri are simply white rice mixed with a onigiri seasoning packet that can be picked up at the grocery store or Daiso if you’re in a hurry. ^.^ I can’t honestly say I know what all the flavors were, but at least one of them had salmon flakes in them. Those added just enough flavor to the onigiri to make it a delicious and quick-to-prepare snack to take on a day trip.
Yet, not all formats of onigiri have seasoning mixed in with the rice. In fact, some just have little pockets of food at the very center of the ongiri. Often times it’s salmon or tuna or perhaps even tiny fish that they use to make dashi stock for udon(more on that another day). I wish I could give more examples of flavors for ongiri, but sadly, I don’t know what half of these onigiri were filled with. *sigh*
Picking out onigiri that was wrapped in something rather than filled was often a safer bet because you can see what you’re eating rather than getting a surprise (at least for those who don’t speak Japanese :p). The most common wrapping is naturally seaweed, but other things have been adapted for onigiri as well.. One of my favorites was actually a thin slice of fried, sweetened tofu wrapped around rice. I had no idea what it was when I picked it up, but it was really yummy and I definitely bought it again.
One version of onigiri that I wasn’t a huge fan of was the one I ate when I went to an izakaya. You can read about that experience here, but the reason I didn’t like their version of onigiri is because of the car. They make a rice triangle and throw it on the burner and char it. According to my Japanese host at the time, the char on the outside of the onigiri is what adds to the flavor. Bleh! I can’t handle char.
Though, that didn’t stop me from trying the more exotic flavors such as onigiri wrapped in bacon. Or the circular onigiri with ham and egg or perhaps even hamburger on it. I can’t say how popular these flavors are among the Japanese, but I think they’re more appealing to Westerners who may not be nearly as adventurous when it comes to food.
I, on the other hand, wanted to try everything and did my best to try as much onigiri as possible (especially with how cheap it was!). I can’t even recall the number of kinds or flavors or brands I tried, but each one seemed different from the last and it’s one of those foods I miss the most after being away from Japan. If I can figure out how to make flavored onigiri at home, I think I’d be in heaven. :p
Oh! But I didn’t even tell you the best part: shapes. Onigiri is not just for adults. Children eat them, too, and there are actually molds for different characters and animals to shape your onigiri for young children (or me. Hee hee). My host in Japan gave me a going away present and it was one of these onigiri molds. Mine happens to be in the shape of a penguin and it even has little cookie cutters for seaweed to give him a tuxedo and face(see the picture below[that I found on the internet]). :p It’s adorable! And I’ll have to post pictures when I get around to using him (after I move to Georgia and everything). So stay tuned and thanks for reading! Check back next week for more exotic foods!