Japanese Rice Balls
A week or so ago, I posted about a wagyu beef vending machine in Osaka. Pretty unique find, I think, even in a country that is famous for the offbeat vending machines.
Today in my reading I came across another food-related link. This one is looking at Which convenience store's tune mayo rice balls are best. It refers to a video from a popular Japanese YouTuber and comments on it, giving some of their own info.
I thought I'd give my own thoughts.
First off, what's a rice ball, otherwise known as onigiri. Probably a lot of you know already, but when I talk to people back home I'm always reminded that not everyone is familiar with the idea.
Basically a rice ball is just rice that is clumped together in some shape and stored to eat more conveniently later. I'm sure many countries do this. I know they do it in Italy, for instance (or at least in Sicily) because my dad grew up with them.
In Japan the rice is usually is shaped into a triangle form, but not always. Sometimes it is in a hexagon shape, sometimes an oval. It may or may not be wrapped with nori seaweed and may or may not have a "treat" in the middle, most commonly umeboshi or tuna. They are super easy to make, making them very common to use for picnics or other outings.
Onigiri predate chopsticks in Japan. Back in the Nara Period (710 to 794) rice was rolled into bat shapes to make it easier to eat.
Tuna mayo rice ball
About that "treat" in the middle. When most people make onigiri for themselves, they probably use umeboshi. Umeboshi is a kind of pickled plum and it is perfect for the job. But I've often read the most popular onigiri at convenience stores is the tuna mayo, and this article I link to above seems to confirm that (or at least agree with it).
I tend to avoid convenience store onigiri most of the time. I've been told by people in the food business here that they are filled with lots of chemicals that are better avoided. That said, when I do buy from a convenience store, tuna mayo is always a safe choice. You know what you're getting and you know it will be at least passably good.
Comparing rice balls
In the video, she tries out a number of different onigiri, including mentaiko (pollock roe), which is always good.
Here is the full video so you can see her choices. Unfortunately there are no English subtitles so you won't be able to understand if you don't know Japanese, but you may enjoy watching to see all the different rice balls.
I looked on YouTube to see if I could find a similar video in English for all of you. This one was interesting. It isn't quite as extensive. They compare three of them, including the aforementioned tuna mayo (also ume and salmon).
The kind I always look for when I do stop at the convenience store is nattō kimchi. Usually this is rolled up in the maki sushi style so it's not really technically a rice ball but same basic idea.
Nattō is fermented soybeans. It may be an acquired taste. Alone it is great, but when you combine it with kimchi it is even better! Japanese kimchi is often much sweeter than the Korean original, so that may have something to do with the good combination.
Oh yeah, that's the stuff dreams are made of!
Unfortunately it doesn't seem to be very popular and only one of the convenience stores carries it on a regular basic and even then it doesn't show up a lot. Far more common are the nattō-only rolls. These are a good second choice.
Anyway, that was a brief kind of rambling look at rice balls in Japan. Go explore the link and watch the two videos, or at least the English one. Next time you make rice, maybe try making your own rice ball!
|David LaSpina is an American photographer and translator lost in Japan, trying to capture the beauty of this country one photo at a time and searching for the perfect haiku.|
If this blog post has entertained or helped you, please follow/upvote/reblog. If you want to further support my writing, donations are welcome.