Monday, September 08, 2008

Onigiri is filled with Mother Love

I love onigiri. They're like Japanese arancini. The first time I had it, I was at my friend Kayoko's house. She was my first exposure to real Japanese culture (hentai notwithstanding), and she would frequently host informal dinner parties for her friends and Portland International School co-workers. I was one of the few, fortunate gaijin invited to these events. Sometimes, when the fillings for nori-maki would run out, she and her Japanese friends would just use up the remaining sushi rice with spoonfuls of miso, or umeboshi from the jar in her fridge to slap together some onigiri, which would get passed around on a large plate like some kind of umami brownie.

When Scott and I visited Tokyo a year ago, we struggled to adjust to the time change. We'd wake up at around 4:30am Tokyo time, starving and needing caffeine (the hotel didn't start serving "koh-hee" until like 7:00 or 8:00). Unfortunately, the only thing open that early was the 7-11, which was where we obtained our breakfast every morning. An ice-cold can of Boss cafè au lait and a couple of onigiri triangles from the cold deli case, pull up a curb and eat your breakfast. If it weren't strange enough to be shorts and flip flops-clad, tattooed white people, add 1) being bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at a bird's hour and 2) eating whilst seated at a curb, which is never done (eating outdoors or while walking is somewhat unusual in Tokyo). Fortunately, the only people up early enough to gawk were the taxi drivers and convenience store clerks, and I'm sure they've seen worse.

But those 100 円 (~$1) onigiri were the best! Since I'm illiterate in katakana, it was always a surprise what flavor I was going to get. Sometimes it'd be salmon, sometimes miso, sometimes egg. I loved nibbling through the nori and rice into the interior, and trying to figure out what it was. I tried to make mental notes of what I was tasting, for when we got home.

I make misoyaki quite often - it's such a simple way to enjoy fish, if you keep a tub of miso in your fridge (and a few other common Japanese ingredients in your cupboard). We always have a little leftover, and once in awhile, I end up with enough to warrant re-use. Usually, I'll just nuke it and eat it straight from the tupperware, but this time, I used the leftover shiro maguro (albacore) and the genmai (Japanese brown rice) to pat a few onigiri into a meal.

Just flake the fish with a fork and sprinkle with sesame seeds and a pinch of salt. Then take a ball of rice (cold or warm) into wet hands, flatten slightly with your fingertips, and place a spoonful of filling in the center. Put another pinch of rice on top and form into a ball (covering the filling with the rice). Pat it into a slightly flattened triangle (the usual shape, but you can make any shape you want, really). Then wrap a piece of nori around the outside so that the onigiri may be taken from a plate without the rice sticking to your fingers.

I keep a tub of these teriyaki-flavored nori strips in my pantry. I bought them on a whim, but they're not substantial enough for just snacking. Sometimes I cut them into very thin strips with scissors to sprinkle on rice, but I've decided that their true calling is wrapping onigiri. Instead of making triangles, I formed rounded squares and made a criss-cross with the nori strips. These were neat little packages of umami, ready for a light dinner or a bento lunch.

Next time you have some leftover fish (or any other salty food) and rice, why not try your hand at onigiri? Heck, it's worth cooking rice and fish just to make them. Ittadakimasu!

21 comments:

cook eat FRET said...

that right there is quite the claim, missy...

mother love

that's huge

sounds like a prefect meal to me. i've always been a fan of the ol' umeboshi plum thing. super salty to a whole other level...

so tuna and rice and nori to cover. i can do that!
i guess sushi rice would be the way to go...

and just think... the shy's the limit. like imagine what peter could come up with to put in those things...

Foodycat said...

Kawai! I love onigiri. But I really, really love your plate with the blossoms on!

Brittany said...

Hell yeah! I'm totally gonna try this! I love onigiri, but have never thought to it them in the comfort of my own kitchen...
I'm kind of an Asian cooking pussy-which makes no sense whatsoever, considering where I live and the plethora of badass asian markets (could be the plethora of badass asian restaurants?)- but I'm starting to come out of my shell.

glamah16 said...

My spelling was awful on that last post! I have to aquire more of taste for Japenese food. But I like fish and rice, so I would like this. I have a question. How long does Miso last in the fridge?

Joie de vivre said...

You've inspired me! Living in southeast WA, we have one semi-decent Japanese restaurant (okay, I don't even know if it's semi-decent but we take what we can) I can't imagine why it never dawned on me to make my own.

Peter G said...

I love onigiri as well. But it's not something I'm probably not going to make at home. Although I have to say you've done a fine damn job of it Heather! As for Japan, yes I can relate. In times of desperation (i.e. early morning) I've tried those "interesting" canned coffees...

Peter M said...

I can picture you noshing on these whilst wearing white socks and flip-flops..ya do, dontcha?

Heather said...

Claudia - It is and audacious claim, but I guess it depends on what kind of mother you have.

Foodycat - I love these sakura plates, too! I only have two of them, and I treat them like my firstborn.

Brittany - If you can boil rice, you can make onigiri. You could even use canned tuna. That was one of the flavors I tasted in Tokyo.

Coco - Since it is already fermented, I'd wager miso keeps for a reeeeallly long time. I only buy it about once a year, yet it's always in my fridge. If you're ginger you can get one of those little sacs instead of the big tub.

Joie de Vivre - They're perfect little easy lunches, and you can put anything in them! Well, almost anything.

Petah - I'm totally going to joke on your unintentional double-negative by asking if that means you are going to make it. ;) I kind of miss the Suntory products. Beats a bottle of $tarbucks any day.

Mr. the Greek - If it's too cold to go without socks, it's too cold for sandals. That's my motto! (Although I have been known to rock the sock w/flip flops around the house.)

Manggy said...

Hey!! Hentai is real Japanese culture! It's like America and Twins. Ha ha ha.

I've never had onigiri before. I never even noticed if they were on Japanese menus here. I just thought they were the sometimes life bonus items that appear in video games. Now I think I'll give them a shot :)

maybelle's mom said...

I had this same experience about Onigiri when I lived in japan--that russian roulette feeling. But, it helped me with my reading skills and palette. I do adore Onigiri.

aforkfulofspaghetti said...

Totally with you on all of that. I went to Tokyo a couple of years ago, and had much the same experience. Loved every moment, every morsel.

We Are Never Full said...

ohhhhh! fabulous. looks delicious! i've never heard of this... why? i feel like i'm missing out! great post.

Tom Aarons said...

Love the simplicity of it! But I'm a bit stunned that coffee wasn't available at 4.30am. How're all those hardworking early rising sararimen supposed to get their days started? :)

Lo said...

Got to admit that I've never had onigiri... but it sounds like I'm missing out (and it's easy to make, to boot)!

Love the Tokyo story. I'll add that I think a language barrier makes for a much better adventure when vacationing! Mystery foods are the best!

Heather said...

Mark - I don't think I've ever seen onigiri on a menu before either. It'd be like putting PB&J on a menu. It is totally videogame health food (I think you could get it at the diner in River City Ransom to recharge your stamina).

Maybelle'e Mom - We never bothered to learn to read since we were only there for a week. We would just read the Romaji (we can speak enough to understand, and had our dictionaries), or if there wasn't any, would say "omakase shimasu".

Sketti - I'm dying to go back. Just dying. Writing this post made me more lovesick for it.

Amy - They're so fun and fast and yummeh! You should make some.

Tom - We were up before the sararimen! Anyways, they didn't come to Ginza for work. They could just hit a vending machine for cold cans of Boss coffee.

Lo - You're absolutely right. Being illiterate and speaking so little of the language really helped nail the "foreigner" feeling.

matt wright said...

awesome looking stuff! great use for leftover fish.

Nik Snacks said...

I don't even know what these are, and I don't think I'd want to try them (unless there was Texas Pete invloved, covering it like a Southern-style ketchup) but I enjoyed reading that bit about Tokyo. That was awesome.

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

D had a craving for these the other day and made some - I love 'em!

kittie said...

Oh dear - yet again you expose a gap in my foodie knowledge...! These are new to me - even though they're just the kind of thing I love...

Nilmandra said...

"hentai notwithstanding" made me LOL ;p

I've always found warm rice much easier to form into onigiri. Cold rice doesn't stick as much and my onigiri always fall apart more easily. I love being able to stuff them with whatever ingredients that I have on hand, or just sprinkle furikake and mix in with the rice and have flavoured onigiri without filling.

Hunter Angler Gardener Cook said...

Nice one! These are on my list, as I often have a little Japanese rice (really NorCal Japanese-style rice, whcih is what most Japanese in Japan actually eat...) left over, and I was eyeing a recipe for this just last week.

You have to wet the nori to get them to stick, right?