Onigiri: The Popular Japanese Rice Ball

Onigiri (おにぎり) is a rice ball usualy wrapped in nori (seaweed). Japanese people eat it for breakfast, or as a snack. Onigiri can be filled with a lot of ingredients, from salmon to
umeboshi (salt plums). Sold for about 100-150 yen, these delicious rice balls can be found in every conbinis and supermarkets. But before trying one, let’s take a closer look at their history.

Nearly 2000 years of history

"The Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō in the Hōeidō Edition -Fujisawa- ", Utagawa Hiroshige, 1833

It is said that in the Yayoi Period (300 BC–300 AD), people were eating grilled rice balls wrapped in bamboo leaves. But onigiri as we know it today dates back to the Heian period (794-1185), when boiled and sticky rice started to be used to make cylinder-shaped rice balls, called “tonjiki”. In the late Kamakura period, (1185–1333), a new type of rice, called uruchimai was used when making tonjiki.

The use of nori started during the Edo Period (1603-1868), when people decided to wrap onigiri in seaweed in order to avoid having sticky hands when eating one. The fact that onigiri was healthy and easy to transport contributed to its success.

Types of Onigiri

Today, there are many different types of onigiri. The most popular are:

・Salmon (鮭: sake)

・Tuna & Mayonnaise (ツナマヨネーズ: tsuna mayonezu)

・Salmon Roe  (イクラ: ikura)

・Salt Plums (梅干: umeboshi)

・Salted Pollock Roe (明太子: mentaiko)

But you can also find sometimes onigiri filled with meat, cheese, or even eggs!

One final word: depending on the region, onigiri can also be called omusubi (おむすび), or nigirimeshi (握り飯). So let’s go to a conbini and find your favourite onigiri /omusubi /nigirimeshi!

If you are interested in the best foods to try in Japan, feel free to check out this article!

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