8 Recommended Onigiri You Must Try in Japan!

8 Recommended Onigiri You Must Try in Japan!

Often described as rice balls, onigiri are portable portions of flavored or filled sticky rice, often wrapped in nori (dried seaweed sheets), consumed in their millions by schoolchildren and workers every day all over Japan. For packed lunches, picnics, snacks and day trips, onigiri have been popular for centuries. For visitors to Japan, the most readily available, reasonably-priced and bewilderingly diverse onigiri will be those found at convenience stores. Here are a few of my personal favorites:



 

8 Recommended Onigiri You Must Try in Japan!

 

1. Tuna Mayonnaise

8 Recommended Onigiri You Must Try in Japan!Tuna Mayonnaise

(flickr By kimubert)

this has to be the most popular variety, not least of all because it is the most often requested by kids for their lunch boxes. I often make this for myself, using canned tuna mixed with mayonnaise for the filling.

NB: Although starting out as balls of rice, onigiri are usually flattened somewhat and shaped into rounded triangles. The filling is right in the middle and the whole thing finally wrapped in crisp nori.8 Recommended Onigiri You Must Try in Japan!Salmon Mayonnaise

 

2. Salmon Mayonnaise

 

As with tuna, shakeh (salted salmon flakes) mixed with mayonnaise is a very popular filling. In fact, many onigiri recipes include mayonnaise dressed ingredients, including shrimp, chicken and mentaiko (spicy cod roe).

 

3. Umeboshi

8 Recommended Onigiri You Must Try in Japan!Umeboshi

Sour pickled plum is often served as a condiment to steamed rice in Japan, so it’s not surprising that it is also extremely popular as an onigiri filling.

NB: When onigiri are being shaped, they are often flavored on the outside with salt. However, if the filling is salty, as with umeboshi, or the rice itself is flavored, additional salt is not added.

 

4. Tarako & Ikura

8 Recommended Onigiri You Must Try in Japan!Tarako

Another common ingredient in Japanese cuisine is roe, either cod or salmon, and this too is used in a variety of onigiri. This can be cooked or uncooked, plain or marinated in soy, or dressed in mayonnaise. Whatever varieties are available will reflect the popularity rating the convenience store chain has determined for their onigiri through regular customer surveys.

 

5. Shakeh

8 Recommended Onigiri You Must Try in Japan!Shakeh

Salted salmon flakes are an ideal onigiri filling. I prefer this to salmon mayonnaise, both for the flavor and because I always think the volume of salmon is greater without mayonnaise!

NB: With homemade onigiri, the nori wrap will soon become soft, which many people prefer. Other people prefer to carry the nori separately until it is required. But the onigiri sold at convenience stores is very cleverly wrapped so as to always keep the nori crisp. All you have to do is make sure you pull the three numbered tabs in order, and your onigiri will emerge perfectly wrapped with crisp nori!

But not all onigiri are of the triangular, filled variety. Some, using flavored rice, are round and not wrapped in nori.

 

6. Gomoku Onigiri

8 Recommended Onigiri You Must Try in Japan!Gomoku

Traditionally, gomoku rice contains some ingredients, though there’s no hard and fast rule to this for gomoku onigiri, and they may contain various cooked vegetables, grilled chicken, or aburaage (a kind of fried tofu). Typically round in shape and not fully wrapped with nori, they make a delicious alternative to the triangle onigiri above.

 

7. Osekihan Onigiri

8 Recommended Onigiri You Must Try in Japan!Osekihan

Osekihan uses glutinous mochi rice mixed with azuki beans and black sesame seeds, and flavored with salt. Osekihan is typically prepared for celebratory meals, but its use in onigiri is not dependent upon any special occasions.

 

8. Yaki Onigiri

8 Recommended Onigiri You Must Try in Japan!Yaki

This may be round or triangular and is simply rice (without any filling) that is brushed with a sweet, caramelized soy and grilled, producing an exterior that is crispy and nutty, with a soft, moist inside.

 

Conclusion

Such a brief list as this cannot do justice to a food as versatile and popular as onigiri, and there are many other flavors and fillings that I’ve omitted. However, if you find yourself in Japan and in need of quick, filling and nutritious lunch or picnic items, look for a convenience store and try some of the many onigiri they’ll have on offer; I’m sure you won’t be disappointed!

 

8 Recommended Onigiri You Must Try in Japan!

1. Tuna Mayonnaise
2. Salmon Mayonnaise
3. Umeboshi
4. Tarako & Ikura
5. Shakeh
6. Gomoku Onigiri
7. Osekihan Onigiri
8. Yaki Onigiri