I love Japan, and I miss it terribly. I lived in the northern city of Sapporo with a host family for a semester in college, enrolled in some hard-core Japanese language classes and a religion class. It probably sounds cliche of anyone who spends a semester abroad, but it was amazing, life-changing, and eye-opening. I experienced so much in such a (what seemed like) short time. I could seriously go on and on for pages… Karaoke, amazing friends, late nights. One of my favorite things about the experience (and there were so many) was a new sense of independence the experience granted me. Not only was this an entire country I knew absolutely nothing about before I arrived (I wasn’t like most of my fellow students, who’d studied Japanese in school before or were smitten with the Japanese culture; it was practically a complete fluke that I ended up spending this semester in Japan), but I didn’t know a single person. And, it was my first experience living in a city. As someone without a driver’s license, suddenly being able to travel wherever I wanted completely on my own using either my bike (oh my bike! I miss it so much) or public transportation was… indescribable. Seriously. My very first real taste of independence.
Ok, I’m getting off-topic. I just hope you’re understanding what an amazing experience this was for me.
With that new independence came the fact that I wasn’t getting my meals in a college cafeteria anymore, which meant I had to feed myself… And I didn’t have a job, so I wanted to spend as little as possible on food (oh my goodness, but Japanese food is literally still my favorite of any types of food). Well, my new favorite, cheap, and on-the-go lunch quickly became the surprisingly incredibly delicious おにぎり, or onigiri, or rice ball. Basically a Japanese sandwich. I’m getting hungry just thinking about these things. Onigiri basically consists of sticky rice smooshed into a triangular shape (usually) with some delicious (sometimes not delicious. As I was first learning Japanese it was a real gamble if the packaging didn’t have a picture on it) filling, with a rectangular seaweed wrap around it so you didn’t get rice all over your hands. Oh, and they cost barely more than ¥100, or 100 yen, which was about equal to an American dollar when I was there.
So, if I wasn’t too hungry, I could eat lunch for just slightly more than a dollar. And it was a delicious lunch, too! And you could pick these things up at any 7-11 or other convenience store (and 7-11s were everywhere!)
As for the fillings, my favorites were roe, tuna, or salmon.
So anyways, recently I was feeling extremely nostalgic for Japan, and remembering these delicious little rice balls, and I began to wonder how difficult it would be to make them… And as a matter of fact, they are way simpler than I ever would’ve thought! Now obviously this is just one way to make onigiri, and I’m in no way in the slightest an expert on the matter, but this is what I was able to gather so that I could make something that gives me that nostalgic taste that I miss, so here we go:
– sticky rice (sushi rice you can find in the international section of most grocery stores)
– seaweed wraps (those packages of square sheets of dried seaweed, also check the international section)
– filling. (I used plain ol’ canned tuna with mayonnaise, but I also added some wasabi to it, which was an awesome extra flavor; and don’t worry, it wasn’t too spicy. You can find that stuff in tubes, again in the international section.)
– soy sauce, optional
– Cook your rice according to the instructions on the package.
– While the rice is cooking, prepare your seaweed wraps & filling(s).
– With clean scissors, cut the seaweed into rectangular pieces about 3″x6″ or so.
– Mix up canned tuna, mayonnaise and wasabi to desired taste. You can also add other spices etc to your fillings. Whatever tastes good.
– Once everything is ready, make sure you have some counter space around your kitchen sink, and arrange your seaweed wraps, filling with a fork or spoon to scoop, cooked rice with a wooden spoon or rice paddle, and a large plate to set your finished onigiri on within reach of the sink.
– Turn on your kitchen faucet running with cold water, and plunge your hands beneath it. The cold water will keep the stickiness of the rice from sticking to your skin, and the rice will be hot, so the coolness of the water will be something you’ll appreciate.
– Scoop out a half handful size of rice and smoosh it into a shallow bowl in the palm of your hand.
– Add a small forkful of filling, then add another half handful of rice on top. You’re creating a rice pocket full of tuna-y filling.
– Press on your rice ball until you form a small chubby triangle. This should take seconds.
– Wrap a rectangle of seaweed around it, and set it on your large plate.
– Tada! You’re made your first onigiri!!
*Some find it easier to scoop out an entire handful of rice and burrow a hole into it to shove the filling in. I like the half-bowl-with-a-lid method better. Play around with it and figure out what’s easiest for you.
I can’t wait to go back to visit Japan again sometime. Until then though, I’ll try to feed my nostalgia in whatever ways I can.