Japanese Bentos – Onigiri Fillings

Did you try making your own onigiri last month? Which one was your favorite recipe… the Rice Sprinkles Onigiri or Yaki-Onigiri or the all-time Classic Onigiri?

This month, we’re making more delicious onigiri for our bento boxes, ones stuffed with tasty fillings!

As you know, onigiri, or omusubi, are highly portable convenience foods that are popular bento items. The classic types of onigiri are made with plain, high-quality cooked white rice, coated in salt and shaped into balls, cylinders, triangles or molded into cute shapes like kittens and flowers. Sometimes they are wrapped in dried nori seaweed and other times they are sprinkled with sesame seeds, ground shiso leaf or furikake.

Because onigiri can be filled with ingredients that would help preserve the rice, typically sour or salty foods, they became popular convenience foods before modern refrigeration. Nowadays, all kinds of tasty ingredients are used to stuff onigiri!

Umeboshi

Common fillings are easy to find in Japan and can be found in Japanese or specialty Asian food markets abroad. Umeboshi, or salty pickled Japanese plum, has a strongly sour taste, travels well at room temperature and said to have antibacterial properties.

Shiozake, or salted salmon, is another quintessentially classic filling for onigiri, added flaked and salted to the rice.

Okaka, or bonito flakes moistened with soy sauce, is both salty and sweet, providing a lovely complement for the rice.

Tarako, or salty cod roe that’s cooked and cut into small pieces, makes a deliciously salty addition to the rice

Finally, kombu no tsukudani, or kombu seaweed that has been simmered in a soy sauce based liquid until tender and caramelized, is shredded into small strips then rolled into the center of the onigiri ball.

Mentaiko, or salted pollock roe, onigiri

Other popular flavorings include negitoro, or finely minced raw tuna mixed with minced green onions, shrimp tempura, pickled takana or Japanese mustard leaves, negi miso, or a mixture of miso paste and Japanese leeks, matsutake mushrooms, daikon radish leaves and even karaage fried chicken, Spam® and yakiniku, or grilled beef.

For our bentos this month, we’re going to make filled onigiri. Just like unstuffed onigiri, start with japonica or uruchimai variety rice. When cooked properly, this type of rice clings together without getting mushy. Once the rice has cooled to the point where it can be handled, moisten hands with water and rub a pinch of salt into hands. Scoop about ½ cup of rice into hands, pressing it into a disc-like shape that conforms to the curve of your palm. Place the filling on the rice and mold the rice around the filling into the desired shape, and wrap with nori, if desired. If you are a beginner, you can place a plastic wrap in a small bowl and place the rice and filling on top. Then gather the plastic wrap around the rice and make your desired shape.

We love Shiozake Onigiri, made with home-cooked salmon, and Spam® musubi, which is a variation of omusubi created in Hawaii!

We love onigiri for our bentos and hope that you’ll share your favorites with us, too. Don’t forget to post your photos in the comments!

Japanese Bentos – Onigiri

Classically Built Onigiri

Happy 2017, Zojirushi fans! We kick off the new year with a new series about bento, or the Japanese lunch box. Japanese bentos are not only nutritious but creative and beautiful! We’re going to spend some time learning about the special foods and dishes that are found in bento boxes. Stick with us, and you’ll be making your own complete bento in no time!

We begin with one of Japanese cuisine’s beloved comfort foods, onigiri.

Onigiri, also known as omusubi, is a portable, filling convenience food that is nutritious and fun! The purest form of onigiri is made from high-quality cooked white rice that is shaped into either a ball, triangle or cylinder while it’s still hot. During the shaping process, the cook will coat their damp hands with salt to coat the rice with the seasoning.

onigiribento

Onigiri bento

Onigiri is said to have come into existence after uruchimai, or everyday short-grain white rice, came to be widely used in the 11th to 12th centuries. It became popular as a convenience food before modern refrigeration, as the addition of salt or a sour ingredient helped to preserve the cooked rice and enable people to take food with them when they left home.

Onigiri is a popular bento item because it keeps well, is highly portable and can be formed into lovely shapes. It can be found in elaborately festive bentos as well as in homemade bentos, and unlike sushi or inari, which are made using rice seasoned with vinegar, onigiri can simply be made with white rice and just a touch of salt.

So how many types of onigiri are there?

So many! From the traditional triangular, spherical and cylindrical shapes to adorably cute, molded shapes of popular characters in manga and anime, onigiri takes many forms. Onigiri is often wrapped in thin sheets of dried nori seaweed.  It also can be sprinkled with sesame seeds or furikake such as ground shiso leaf. When grilled over an open flame on a wire rack, yaki-onigiri, or grilled onigiri, can be basted with a glaze like miso butter. Mixing up the type of rice used in onigiri is also a popular way to make it. Short-grain japonica white rice is traditionally used, but brown rice and rice mixed with barley, wild rice, green peas and other grains also make delicious variations. New forms of onigiri, called onigirazu, are like little rice sandwiches wrapped in seaweed.

kyaraben

Kyaraben, or character bento

Making onigiri is like many Japanese activities… deceptively simple. Start with freshly cooked rice that has cooled to the point where it can be handled, not gotten cold. Moisten hands with water and rub a pinch of salt into hands. Scoop about ½ cup of rice into hands, and mold the rice into the desired shape. If using a mold, then press the rice into the mold. And you now have the most basic onigiri!

Try making our Rice Sprinkles Onigiri, which uses a wonderful vegetable furikake, as well as our Yaki-Onigiri, which results in a crispy outside and soft and savory inside. You’ll love them both!

Stay tuned for our next Japanese Bentos post in which we will be discussing about the different types of fillings for onigiri!

Also, don’t forget to share your favorite onigiri recipe with us in the comments!

 

Japanese Street Food: Tachigui Soba!

tachigui02What’s better than slurping hot soba noodles when you’re out in the cold? Slurping them when they’re hot, fresh, cheap and at a tachigui-style restaurant!

Tachigui, which means “eating standing up”, is a popular style of eating in Japan, especially for quick meals while traveling, commuting or going out for the evening. Tachigui-style eating was first introduced in what is now Tokyo during the Edo Period (1603-1868). During that time, restaurant owners catered to laborers and working class people who needed inexpensive yet nutritious, fresh and flavorful food… the perfect setting for serving soba noodles in soup broth. To minimize costs for space and service, tachigui shops offered standing areas for people to just eat and go.

This style of eating spread across Japan and in modern day cities, tachigui-style restaurants can be found in close proximity to rail stations and commuter areas. Soba noodles in hot soup broth are still the most popular dishes served at tachigui restaurants, but hungry people can also find sushi, barbeque and takoyaki at tachigui stalls.

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Customers eat at a tachigui soba shop in a train station (photo by Nesnad)

Dining at tachigui restaurants is an experience. Since many are located at or near train stations, they offer only counter space for diners. Diners purchase meal tickets called shokken for the type of dish they want from vending machines located at the stall. Meals range from the barebones noodles and soup to various toppings such as tempura, kakiage, eggs, fish cake and more. Once a diner purchases a ticket, they hand that to the server, and wait a few minutes for their bowl to be delivered. Tea and condiments are served freely on the counter.

Meals are inexpensive yet incredibly fresh. Soba noodles are parboiled and freshened before being served to patrons. Basic soba soups start at around 250 yen or $2.50 and soups with many toppings won’t cost more than 500-700 yen or $5.00-7.00. Regardless of price, people from all walks of life and economic circumstances eat at tachigui stalls.

Soba noodles are the perfect dish for a cold December going into the New Year and whether you’re eating tachigui-style soba noodles or toshikoshi soba, we hope you stay warm and have a great New Year!

Japanese Street Food: Winter Oden

oden02With the cold months of winter beginning, it’s time for oden.

Oden is a one-pot dish full of vegetables, fish cakes, tofu, eggs and konnyaku, all simmered in seasoned dashi broth. It’s pure comfort food, full of savory ingredients that have soaked up hot seasoned broth, perfect for the cold months of winter.

Oden is enjoyed by everyone in Japan, from children on their way home from school to homeward bound working professionals stopping at street vendors for oden and sake. When made at home, oden includes special ingredients loved by each family member. One of the characteristic ingredient is konnyaku, a jellied yam cake. Those who enjoy oden choose the ingredients to add to their bowl, sometimes adding chikuwa (fish cake), ground fish balls, kinchaku (fried tofu pouches), daikon radish, boiled eggs or vegetables like cabbage and potatoes. Oden is best when garnished with hot Japanese mustard.

Oden is a cross between a nimono, or simmered dish, and nabemono, or hot pot. The name oden is derived from dengaku, which refers to pieces of tofu and konnyaku skewered, basted with miso paste and grilled. Dengaku was typically served during colder months, and around the time of the Muromachi Period (1336 – 1573), the dish was modified to be simmered in seasoned broth.

oden01

A shop advertises oden

Oden is prepared with variations depending on the region in Japan. In Tokyo and its environs, the broth is made from dashi and koikuchi shoyu, or dark soy sauce, and is typically salty in flavor. In the Osaka area, broth is made from dashi and usukuchi shoyu, or light soy sauce, with hints of sweetness. Oden from the Kyoto area has a sharp and sweet taste and in Nagoya, the broth is miso-based.

No matter what style of broth oden is made with, the warmth and savoriness of the ingredients characterize comfort during the coming winter. Oden can be found at street vendors, izakaya restaurants, and even at convenience stores where the clerks will either assemble your oden for you or let you make your own creation at the self-service counters.

One of our favorite oden recipes can be found here, and we hope you will try it out during this winter season.

Until next time, stay warm and don’t forget to look out for our last post about Japanese street food for 2016!