Onigiri (or omusubi, the other name for the same thing), the cute little rice ball, has really become popular outside of Japan in the last few years, in large part it seems due to its iconic status in anime and manga. While the onigiri is not limited in Japanese food culture to just bento use, it’s an indispensable part of the bento maker’s repertoire.
Previously on Just Hungry, I’ve explained how to make onigiri twice: the traditional, hot salty palms way, and an easier method using plastic wrap and a cup. And you can always use a plastic onigiri mold if neither method appeals. However, I have never really gone into depth about the different shapes and kinds of onigiri. So, here it is - a parade of different kinds of onigiri: shapes, coverings, fillings, and more.
But first to dispell some onigiri myths…
Onigiri do not have to be triangular in shape.
Onigiri do not have to be covered with nori seaweed.
Onigiri do not have to have a filling.
If the rice is sushi rice (flavored with sushi vinegar), it is no longer onigiri, it’s sushi.
The one rule of onigiri is…
Onigiri must be made with sticky, short- or medium-grain, steam-cooked japonica type rice. Long grain rice just will not stick together sufficiently. (Note that I’ve used white rice for illustration purposes for this article, but properly cooked brown rice can be used in most cases too.)
The keys to great tasting onigiri are
Good rice, properly washed and cooked. There is a big difference between mediocre rice and good rice
Sufficient salt to flavor the onigiri - either on the outside if making the usual type of onigiri, or with a salty filling inside, or salty enough sprinkles.
Traditional onigiri shapes
As stated above, an onigiri does not have to be triangular. As long as it holds together, it can be any shape possible.