Rice You Can Hold
For once, eating with your hands (in Japan) is OK.
To nigiru is “To Grasp.”
O-Nigiri (Japanese: おにぎり、お握り) is sushi that you grasp while eating it.
Put simply, onigiri are rice balls with fillings of some kind.
Traditionally, these fillings included:
- Pickled dry plums (umeboshi)
- Salted bonito (katsuo-bushi)
- Konbu seaweed (konbu)
- Cod roe (tarako)
Cod roe for the Japanese market is actually one industry that has existed for many years in my tiny coastal community here in Nova Scotia, though overfishing etc. has decreased the quantity, and the Japanese economy has not been booming, either.
Anyway, the point behind these traditional fillings is simple: anything salty or sour acted like a natural preservative. The onigiri long precedes the electric refrigerator, after all. (If you didn’t know that, now you do!)
Today, onigiri are highly popular in Japan as a snack food. A wide variety of flavors and fillings are employed. Onigiri are widely sold at convenience stores all across Japan.
Note that the rice in onigiri is actually not vinegared, thus, it is not itself sushi. Nonetheless, onigiri are common, easy to make, and do not require any worrying about servings or other issues a chef might otherwise face, so you will find them in any sushi-ya (sushi restaurant) alongside quote unquote “sushi.” You can’t miss them. They’re everywhere.