Onigiri, that ubiquitous triangle-shaped concoction is pretty much the most ideal food – it’s simple to make, healthy, cheap, easy to pack and carry, and suitable for every taste, and can be eaten on-the-go. Take you pick between salmon, tuna mayonnaise, pickled plums, chicken, or even stranger combinations that seem to appear in limited editions, as sky is the limit when it comes to fillings.
Loosely translated as ‘rice balls’ (not always triangles!), onigiri have been around for literally ages, probably even before the chopsticks first appeared. Centuries before the rice balls became mass-produced and in intricate packaging requiring instructions to open, they were wrapped in bamboo sheath and carried around by samurai, who chowed them down swiftly between battles.
Despite the vast array of options sitting on the shelves of convenience stores, nothing tastes better than a freshly-made onigiri, with the rice still slightly warm. Perhaps also the quickest lunch to pack, as it requires only a few ingredients and the ability to shape rice, in a few simple steps. Simply wet your hands with cold water and sprinkle them with salt, then make a small ball of cooked rice, dent it in the middle, stuff it with the filling, and close it back. You can get creative and wrap it in a sheet of seaweed, then carry it in plastic film. Voilà!
If you speak Japanese, check out this onigiri map of Japan, including 100 types of onigiri characteristic of different areas. In downtown Tokyo, this ball filled with clams is the way to go, we are told; the more adventurous seafood lover, though, may go for a squid sphere from Ishikawa prefecture.
If shaping the rice into a triangle seem a bit of a daunting task, there is a way to make your life easier and give you a perfectly symmetrical onigiri. For instance, this onigiri ceramic container not only stores your lunch, but also doubles as a pickled vegetable maker (sprinkle salt on bite-sized vegetables and let them sit for about twenty minutes). It also beats similar but plastic products available in some high street stores and you can even use it as a side dish for at-home meals.
What’s your favourite onigiri filling?
To have a look at more products like this – most with a more traditional level of craftsmanship – and to get more information on the craftspeople of Japan, or indeed to buy some of the products talked about here, visit JCRAFTS.com. Jcrafts is an online shop that sells items with engrained Japanese spirit to 120 countries worldwide while aiming to also teach you all about where they come from.