Adventure Food

O-nigiri, aka “Rice Balls”

Nigiri-zushi - a fistful of vinegar-rice with a slab of fish over it

This is the pilot snack of Japan: O-nigiri Literally, “a press”, referring to the way a bundle of rice is pressed together with the hands into a nice little snack. This is distinguished from simply “nigiri”, which refers to a type of sushi where a slab of fish is laid over a small bundle of rice, shown here above.

If you have seen Japanese cartoons in any capacity, you have probably seen them munching on O-nigiri, a circular or triangular shaped mass of rice, usually with a tasty filling of fish, vegetables, a combination of them, or more recently, varieties of meat. The rice ball is usually then bound with a bit of seaweed.

Onigiri, often depicted in Japanese cartoons, are rice balls with fish, vegetables, or meats inside

A traditional food of Japan, the typical onigiri wraps up the oldskool and simple Japanese set meal of rice, fish, and vegetables, into a portable and convenient snack perfect for adventures or picnics. In fact, for adventure-type characters in Japanese television shows, video games, and storybooks, one could be led to believe that they eat nothing else. I suppose the easiest way to create a mental image is to liken it to a sandwich.

Japanese travellers would ration their limited stocks of rice into tasty and nutritious onigiri

Rice was historically, and still is, the primary crop of Japan, so often times for hard-lucked travelers, there would be little else to eat other than rice pressed together with some very common produce, and perhaps a pinch of salt for flavor. That being said, a pile of rice can be best rationed if separated into balls and eaten accordingly with breaks for meals; makes sense really. These guys here take a breather from their journey to eat what little rice they have. Even just plain rice can be all the flavor and nutrition one needs to push on.

Historically, onigiri were wrapped in leaves for transport

Onigiri after being pressed and bound with a strip of seaweed is usually then further wrapped up in a leaf for sanitary transportation. This is more of a novelty in the modern era of plastic wrapping, but nevertheless, some still prefer the classic, natural methods of packaging. This picture here is a little more gorgeous than the standards held by the countryside wanderers of ancient Japan, but this is basically the idea.

Nowadays, onigiri is still a favorite among Japanese people of all ages, and they can be readily purchased at just about anywhere that sells food, and it is also common for people to make up their leftover rice, veggies, and meat into onigiri for tomorrow’s lunch. But for the most part, in Tokyo at least, people are on the go and frequently stop by the convenience store to pick up a handy snack on the way to work, on a break, or on the way home. Heck, why not just buy 3 and call it a meal.

Onigiri can be found easily at any combini starting at 100 yen

Priced at 100 yen and up, this pocket of power can support everyone in their daily lives, from the hurried salaryman, to the strolling elderly couple, to the frugal vagabond or traveler. It’s quite healthy and fills you up, and no one can disagree with that.