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Japan’s Consolation Meals: The Onigiri

Japan’s Consolation Meals: The Onigiri

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Stroll into any Japanese comfort retailer and you’ll all the time discover a shelf devoted to 1 merchandise: onigiri.

The onigiri, typically translated as “rice ball”, actually means “greedy a fistful” and is in some ways Japan’s unique quick meals, earlier than quick meals. Fast to make, fast to eat, straightforward on the pockets, reminds you of house, and unreasonably scrumptious!

What’s an Onigiri?

The best onigiri has simply two components: rice, and salt. Prepare dinner the rice, salt it, and gently press ~100g of the fluffed rice right into a triangular form. Actually, that’s all there may be to it.

To impart an fascinating style, one may additionally wrap the onigiri in a sheet of nori (dried seaweed). The nori provides it a crunch and brings contrasting flavors that complement the rice.

A easy onigiri

Onigiris may also have fillings. Conventional fillings embody pickled plum, bonito, and seasoned seaweed.

Onigiri with sea urchin filling Supply: Hideya HAMANO

Lastly, you even have the mixed-into-the-rice onigiris, the place quite a lot of components are cooked with the rice.

Making onigiris has plenty of parallels with making eggs: easy to make however devilishly complicated to grasp.

Individuals might be veeeryyy particular about “The Proper Method ™” to eat an onigiri. Some folks suppose onigiri is finest eaten chilly, whereas others disagree vehemently. Personally although, the sensation of opening your heat onigiri and seeing the aroma waft out … chef’s kiss

A (Temporary and Incomplete) Historical past of the Onigiri

Archeologists have unearthed onigiri-like meals from ruins that date to about 2,000 years in the past.

At the moment’s onigiri, although, actually rose from post-war Japan’s financial miracle.

When speaking about WW2 and Japan, most individuals bear in mind the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. What typically stays within the shadows is the large-scale carpet bombing that Allied forces undertook over giant elements of Japan. These raids flattened entire cities in a single day.

After Japan surrendered, rebuilding the nation required each grownup  (and infrequently youngsters) to work to the bone. They usually did. That is the place the roots of Japanese workaholism began.

To assist this more and more busy inhabitants, supermarkets began stocking handy and acquainted meals. Onigiri was first bought at supermarkets in 1952.

That is fascinating as a result of onigiri was by no means a meals that you simply purchased or ate exterior. It was one thing you made at house and packed right into a lunch field.

Konbini and Onigiri

The onigiri shelf at a comfort retailer by no means disappoints Supply: Nullumayulife

The meteoric rise of the onigiri is inextricably tied to the story of comfort shops in Japan. (Psst: We wrote about these here)

Konbini (Japanese for comfort retailer), which had been open 24×7 wished to supply their clients with acquainted, recent, and wholesome meals at a worth that made sense.

They centered on lunch bins (bento) and onigiri.

7-Eleven was one of many first comfort shops to inventory onigiri, beginning with conventional flavors like pickled plum, mentaiko (spicy cod roe) and kelp. Opponents had been fast to acknowledge the demand and flocked in. Quickly each comfort retailer chain had their very own model of onigiri.

Nineteen Eighties 7-Eleven business for onigiri

Every chain was competing on freshness, style, selection, well-stockedness, and most significantly, the nori. This competitors heated up a lot that at one level newspapers began calling these “The Onigiri Wars”.

Rice, Seaweed, and Complete Lot of Engineering

The story of the onigiri’s rise to stardom can be the story of Japan’s engineering prowess.

See, onigiri in its most simple type may simply be a ball of rice wrapped in nori, in a cling wrap. However then the nori can be caught to the rice and can be soggy by the point the shopper purchased it. Many individuals didn’t like this.

There’s a long-running rivalry between the east and west of Japan. Kansai (west) contains cities like Kyoto and Osaka, and Kantou (east) contains Tokyo and Yokohama.

For causes the creator doesn’t perceive nicely, the folks of Kansai and Kantou delight themselves on these variations. Hell, even electrical energy is totally different between these two areas (one runs at 50Hz, whereas the opposite is at 60Hz).

The folks of Kansai and Kantou favor their nori otherwise as nicely. One facet likes them soggy, whereas the opposite likes them crisp.

You’ll not imagine simply how a lot cash has gone into fixing the engineering drawback of “I would like my nori to be crisp however I additionally need the rice to be moist and fluffy”.

The “Separate Technique”

The primary onigiris in the marketplace used the “Separate Technique”, the place the onigiri was wrapped in a double walled pack. The double walled pack contained a sheet of nori. Prospects would open the nori after which wrap it across the onigiri. It labored, however many hated how clumsy it was.

The Parachute

Within the early 80s, Shinobu meals, an organization from Osaka, got here up with an excellent invention referred to as the “Parachute Technique”, the place the nori and onigiri had been separated by a umm.. rip wire. One pull from the highest gave you a mushy onigiri wrapped in recent nori.

Watch the parachute in motion on this 1985 business

Nevertheless, as a result of they’d to make use of oil to make the parachute pull out easily, the onigiri tasted totally different and other people had been displeased.

The “Lower Tape Technique”

The following iteration got here from 7-Eleven, referred to as the “Lower Tape Technique”, the place clients merely needed to tear a tape working vertically by way of the packaging. This didn’t use any oil and varieties the idea for at the moment’s onigiri packaging.

1:02 – 1:17 displaying the Lower Tape Technique in motion

See Also

The “Lower Tape Wave Technique”

To not relaxation on their laurels, 7-Eleven engineered the pack to make it even simpler to tear and landed with the “Lower Tape Wave Technique”, the place the packaging tears aside additional, making it simpler to open:

“Lower Tape” vs. “Lower Tape Wave” Supply: TBS

After 50 years of innovation, that is the place Japan has landed:

The high-tech, elegant approach of opening an onigiri

All the time New and But the Identical

The onigiri is a flexible, low-maintenance meals. In a rustic hit by pure disasters typically, the onigiri is all the time one of many first issues made and handed out in evacuation shelters.

Members of the Japanese Self-Protection Forces making Onigiris through the 2011 Fukushima Catastrophe Supply: Wikimedia

Japan consumes billions of items of onigiri yearly and the standard onigiri retains getting higher. Yearly new flavors are launched, and firms strive new combos of rices, components, and preparation strategies. And but, yearly it nonetheless seems like the identical, acquainted onigiri from years in the past. That’s a permanent testomony to this glorious meals!

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