For the last couple of weeks I've been seriously hooked on the onigiri, or Japanese rice balls, from YaYa Tea Garden in Chinatown. I'd even go so far as to call them my new go-to neighborhood snack spot, which says something in this snacker's playground.
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Japanese rice balls are all about contrast. The idea is that the crisp nori makes a perfect contrast against the soft, tender rice. Eating too slow can lead to papery, wet nori, which for some, will ruin the entire experience. The question is, how do you package this snack to be sold at a convenience store without letting the nori go soft?
This week's recipe is inspired by a segment on The Splendid Table, which I follow not only for the food but to hear Lynn Rosetto Kasper salivate on air. (Am I the only one?) Hearing people talk about food almost always makes me hungrier than watching videos or looking at photos, and this time she was talking about onigiri.
Most onigiri is not grilled. Sticky, short-grain rice compressed around fillings of fish, pickled vegetables or umeboshi (pickled plums) is the norm. A common home-style treat, onigiri is also sold in Japanese convenience stores and grocery stores where sheets of nori (seaweed) wrappers are covered in plastic to remain crispy.
If fine sushi-making is a culinary art form, you could think of onigiri as culinary arts 'n' crafts. More humble and practical than sushi, and with a lot of potential for cuteness, onigiri is, not surprisingly, a mainstay of the Japanese bento box and a popular quick meal.
Jumuk-Bap View the complete recipe here » What do seaweed, pears, and ground beef have in common? They all belong in Jumuk-bap, a Korean rice ball snack I learned how to make from a former Korean housemate. Jumuk means fist in Korean, which is a fair description of how compressed the rice becomes as you shape it into a ball. I'd always been more familiar with the Japanese version, onigiri, in which fillings like umeboshi (pickled plum) or salmon are tucked into the interior of a rice ball, which is then wrapped into a sheet of seaweed. For Jumuk-bap, all the components are mixed together with the rice before being shaped into balls. The secret ingredient in the ground...
If you liked the look of the bento boxes we featured last week and are thinking about making your first foray into making one for yourself, Maki Itoh wrote two posts recently that should help you get started on making onigiri, the rice balls that are a classic in bento box lunches: Onigiri (Omusubi) revisited: An easier way to make Japanese rice balls, step by step and More about onigiri: keeping them fresh and more....