What is an Onigiri?
Onigiri is a very popular comfort food in Japan. It is a Japanese ‘rice ball’. Eaten for breakfast, lunch, and even dinner. Easy to make and handy when traveling, since it needs no refrigeration. Bento (lunch box) is a ‘takeout’ or home packed meal (lunch or dinner), and traditionally has rice, pickled or cooked vegetables and fish or meat. They come in a rectangular or box shape disposable bamboo or plastic containers, unless you have and make your own meal.
Onigiri or rice balls as they are sometimes called, is rice formed into a square, triangular, oval or round ball and may be stuffed with various ingredients. They can also be wrapped, covered or sprinkled with Nori (seaweed) and other seasonings, like Furikake. Some people refer to it as ‘sushi’, but it really is not, other than the fact it is made with plain steamed rice. Nigiri basically means rice that is formed into a shape and most sushi restaurants make ‘sushi’ with it. It has seasoned rice vinegar to make it a “sushi” rice, hence incorporated into the sushi family. Plain steamed rice is not sushi. Seasoned rice vinegar in rice is considered sushi rice. I hope this clears any confusion.
Some say that Onigiri is made with plain steamed rice, which would not be considered ‘sushi’.
But most Asian places due to traditional methods make the rice with the rice vinegar or powdered vinegar. Several reasons for this, first is that the vinegar in the rice helps preserves the rice and the stuffing inside would normally be filled with salty, sour, or pickled items which also helps to preserve the rice which requires no refrigeration. And the vinegar also seasons and flavors the rice. They can sit on the kitchen counter for 24 to 48 hours, in cool room temperature. If you live in hot and humid area then only a day.
If you are traveling and want to make Onigi for your flight, car trip, bus trip, boating or event, you might want to stay with the salty and pickled ingredients. I have made Onigiri for long air flights. I made some for my Hawaii trip. Then another time a road trip from New York to Florida., and even for our boating/fishing day on the Gulf and the funniest of all was when I made some and took them to a football game! The good old days when you ‘could’ bring in food. Of course I shared some. People inquired ‘what is that?”. So I proceeded to tell them and shared some Onigiri. They liked it! I’ll take Onigiri over hot dogs any day! Although my husband likes hot dogs too.
If you make plain steam rice, then it should be eaten right away within hours.
But if you are going to eat them fairly soon with in hours, you may insert other type of fillings, such as meats or other ingredients which would need to be eaten soon or be refrigerated. See below some common fillings you may find or may want to buy.
Just for note: Shio- means salt
Non refrigerated filling Onigiri:
- Takuwan (yellow pickled radish)
- Umeboshi (Japanese salty pickled plum)
- Shio kombu (salty kombu seaweed)
- Beni Shoga (red shredded pickled ginger)
- Pickled Cucumber (Tsukemono or Sunomono)
- Shiozake – shiozake (salted salmon)
- Gari (pink or beige sliced pickled ginger) type at Sushi Restaurants
- Katsuobushi or okaka (bonito flakes moisten with soy sauce)
- Tarako (salty cod roe).
To be Eaten right away or will need refrigeration: Any chopped, diced, minced meat-poultry or fish fillings
- Sloppy Joe meat (dry style)
- Hot dog – Spam – sausage
- Beef, pork, chicken, turkey etc.
- Fried fish,
I think you get the idea, you can fill the Onigiri with most anything you like, as long as it is dry content and will hold within the rice ball.
If you want your Onigiri to taste authentic, look great, and be presented with style, learn the secrets and the techniques of the Japanese rice ball!