Friday, February 4, 2011

Wide on Rice: The Ugliest Onigiri Ever Made

I recently took an onigiri class at the Japanese Culinary Center in midtown Manhattan. Onigiri is a rice ball, the quintessential go-to snack in Japan. It's also called omusubi, a more polite term that means roughly "to take hold of something with your hands." Rice balls can be round or triangular, and they can be filled with all sorts of goodies. My personal favorite is tuna mayonnaise; other popular fillings are shrimp tempura and ume (pickled plum).

In this case, a class of twenty-five people took hold of rice in order to form triangular-shaped rice treats with varying degrees of success. (Based on the title of this blog entry, you can probably guess how successful I was.)

First, our instructor told us to soak our hands in a bowl of lukewarm salt water. The water keeps the rice from sticking on our hands, and the salt enhances the flavor of the rice. Then, we grabbed a chunk of rice from our plates and packed it tightly in the palm of one hand. We added ingredients such as corn, shio konbu (salted kelp), or salmon. Add strips of nori (seaweed) around each one, and voila! We'd created the perfect snack.

Well, not all of the onigiri were perfect. My triangle-forming skills were severely lacking, as my onigiri kept falling apart. Despite dipping my hands in the salt water and re-shaping the rice balls, they still looked hideous.

Ugly onigiri

Nori failure

Hey, looks aren't everything, right? So my onigiri weren't as cute as my classmate's, who used corn to decorate her perfect triangles of rice goodness. What matters most is that mine were yummy!

Pretty onigiri

Looming in the distance was a perfect specimen of an onigiri, expertly shaped by our instructor. One of the class attendees referred to it as Buddha. Yes, he was the Onigiri Buddha, there to lead us down the path to rice-ball enlightenment.

Onigiri Buddha

I enjoyed eating my onigiri almost as much as the tremendous tonjiru, a hearty miso stew prepared by the JCC staff. It was the perfect day-after-the-third-blizzard-in-a-month fare.


I lamented on Facebook about my poor, pathetic onigiri, and a couple of friends gave me excellent tips. The JCC gave participants a four-pound bag of rice cultivated in Akita Prefecture in northern Japan, so I'll use it to refine my technique. I will achieve success in onigiri.


Our instructor chats with a fellow student in front of the Japanese Culinary Center's impressive collection of knives.

The Japanese Culinary Center

The Japanese Culinary Center's wares

My actual onigiri may have been ugly, but at least my accessories reflected the spirit of the occasion.

Onigiri jewelry!


Daniel said...

Man, you're making me want to move to NYC to have onigiri. I miss eating that stuff every morning on the JapanBall trip.

shrinecastle said...

I'm sure there's a place in Baltimore/DC area that has onigiri. Start searching!