Wednesday 28 June 2017

Onigiri: Environmentally Friendly Rice-balls

Two shelves of rice-balls, both triangular and round, in a local 7-Eleven
Different flavours of onigiri lined up in a 7-Eleven
The word for rice-ball - onigiri (お握り) from the verb nigiru meaning to squeeze, grip, or mould - is not quite as ubiquitous as sushi yet but it is certainly one of the Japanese food words which is fairly well-known outside of Japan. Onigiri are typically triangular or round, wrapped in seaweed (nori), and contain something salty or sour like salmon, cod roe, or pickled plum - anything that can be a natural preservative. The top 20 fillings (with pictures) are listed here: the number one, tuna-mayonnaise, is definitely my favourite too! The rice used is usually simple white plain rice and different from the vinegared rice found in sushi and the mochi-gome described in an earlier post. For a peek inside an onigiri factory see here.

Beni-zake/shake (red salmon) onigiri
What is particularly interesting about the onigiri sold at convenience stores (kombini) across Japan is how technologically advanced - and environmentally sound - the wrapping has become. The seaweed and the rice are ingeniously separated with a thin film of plastic, thereby ensuring the seaweed remains crisp. Moreover, in the case of 7-Eleven onigiri at least, the packaging as a whole, including the film, is made from vegetable products with rice ink writing (see picture top right). When opening the onigiri, one must carefully pull tabs one, two, and three in order to ensure that the film is removed smoothly leaving the seaweed intact. Tab number one at the top of the onigiri (pictured) reads "pull down" (shita ni hiku = 下に引く) and the instructions stress that it is important to pull this tab all the way round to the back before tearing it off (tēpu o ura ni mawashite okiri kudasai =テープを裏に回してお切りください). For those having trouble opening their onigiri neatly, please check out the video below for a demonstration!