Japan is famous for its plethora of dishes that are cooked with rice. Onigiri, or rice balls, is probably the second most famous of them all (second to sushi) it is no surprise then that Onigiri is one of the most popular dishes all over Japan also. It is becoming very famous all around the world now too and for good reason, the taste. You get that taste from multitude of flavours so here today we are going to show you some of the most popular ingredients that you may find when you try rice balls for the first time.
What is Onigiri?
Onigiri in its simplest form is a rice ball. That’s it. The most famous and traditional kind of rice ball is just simply seasoned with salt and rolled into a ball. It is simple but it is indeed delicious. It has said to have come from a varied history with some historical writings dating back as far as the seventeenth century. Often in the west it is misplaced in food categories as a form of sushi when it really isn’t. It is often just plain or salted white rice where as sushi rice is very different.
As we all know, the Japanese are the go to quisene for seafood, and Onigiri or “rice balls” are no exception to that rule. One of the most popular fillings is Salmon. There are a lot of salmon dishes in Japan but perhaps this is one of the most consumed. Salmon is often cut to sashimi grade and then served raw but in the case of other quality fish they can be cooked. This is a type of salmon that is cooked on a high temperature and pleaced in a rice ball wraped in seaweed and sometimes even topped with black sesame seeds. This is a delicious thing for all the lovers of seafood out there. The rice itself in this case is often in the triangular shape and just simply seasoned with salt or in certain cases with Japanese Soy Sauce.
Kelp is a form of seaweed and for those of you who know, seaweed is a massive source of flavour in a lot of Japanese cooking and Onigiri is no exception to this rule. A lot of people think that seaweed tastes like fish in the west and that couldn’t be further from the truth. Kelp in particular is a kind of umami flavour that tastes a little like the sea. When it comes to rice balls kelp is used often as a wrap at the bottom of triangular shaped ones or as dried little shreds on seasoned ones. Either way this is an amazing thing that works very very well with simply seasoned rice. Often on rice balls that are wrapped with kelp there could be other ingredients inside and with seasoned balls there could be sesame seeds also.
Cod roe is similar to caviar in that it is young fish eggs. Cod roe is a very popular type of filling or flavour for onigiri. The main way this is served is with a completely wrapped triangular shaped rice ball with the Cod roe hidden inside. Roe in all forms is a richer way of eating seafood so there isn’t always a drastic amount but you do taste it very much and for all lovers of seafood you can not go wrong at all. This, if you don’t include salmon, is one of the most popular filings that are fish based and for a very good reason, it holds it’s own flavour wise. You will rarely find this in snack onigiri because roe won’t work that well unless fresh but when you visit a rice ball restaurant you will be able to get this dish and enjoy its rich lovelyness.
Rest assured vegetarian or vegan friends, you are not left out when it comes to rice ball eating pleasure. Rice balls come in a variety of forms and the Japanese utilise their vegetables to the max so finding a vegetable rice ball should be as easy as finding one made from fish. Of course the most common ingredient for vegetable based onigiri is simply seaweed. Nori or kelp are just two of them. But there are others including thinly cut carrots or mushrooms. And one of the most popular is probably one of Japan’s most famous exports, miso paste. Miso paste is simply soy beans mushed up. You get a lovely umami flavour from the bean paste and it is delicious. There can also often be a mixture of vegetables.
A combination that is famous the whole world over. Tuna mayonnaise. This is a filling of onigiri that will definitely be popular amongst westerners visiting Japan. Tuna mayo is one that ticks all the boxes. You get the lovely fish flavour from the tuna and the savoury tang of the mayo and mix that with some perfectly cooked rice and you have yourself a brilliantly flavoured dish. Japan is really the best place in the world for tuna so I urge you the next time you visit this place to try some tuna mayonnaise rice balls, you will not be let down. You may even find some wrapped in seaweed or topped with sessame seeds or maybe even with some fresh crunchy vegetables thrown in.
When you think of rice balls so far you must be thinking of savoury flavours but there are also ones that implement fruit. The main one of those being plum. The plum they put in the center of a rice ball can vary. They sometimes put it in whole (with the pit/stone and all) or chop it up. Either way the candied plum they use is often very sour so be prepared if you think you are getting a sweet desert you may be in with a little bit of a shock. This shouldn’t put you off though because the savoury rice perfectly counteracts the plum and you end up with a mouthful of pure deliciousness.
7.seasoned cod roe(Mentaiko)
Aside from cod roe there is seasoned cod roe that is known as Mentako, much the same except the roe is already seasoned before hand. It is much similar to salted fish in Scandinavia. This is a perfect dish for those of us who love the savoury flavours more than the sweet a do I. You can be certain that the seasoning will be perfect with a rice ball like this.
So, there you have it, the best and most popular ingredients for Onigiri. Rice balls are now very very popular and show no signs of losing that popularity. Next time you are in Japan you should definitely check out some. Or even if you are in the west and know a good Japanese restaurant, please check them out, you will not be dissapointed.
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