To prevent any confusion, let me first state that the terms onigiri and omusubi are completely interchangeable. The names are simply regional, like how some people here use the terms "hot dog" and "weiner" interchangeably. Also, onigiri/omusubi are NOT a form of sushi. The rice used for onigiri is plain rice, lightly salted on the outside, while sushi uses sushi rice, flavored with vinegar, sugar and salt.
Onigiri is a classic Japanese snack, dating back to the 11th century, available in pretty much any konbini (convenience store). Perfect for travel; cooked rice is formed into a triangle shape and wrapped with nori (dried, toasted seaweed). Often, the onigiri has a salty or sour filling, like umeboshi (pickled plum), shiozake (salted salmon), katsuobushi (dried, shredded bonito) or takuan (pickled daikon radish); this was used as a natural preservative.
Nowadays, onigiri serves as a snack or light meal, and is as ubiquitous in a Japanese bento as a sandwich would be here in a child's lunchbox.
There is almost ALWAYS a plate of onigiri waiting for me on the kitchen counter when I visit my parents. My mom (who calls them "omusubi") still makes them the old way, shaping the scalding hot rice by hand into the perfect triangle shape. She refuses to use an onigiri mold; I actually own one, but it makes the onigiri WAY too big, so it never gets used, especially since I've now discovered a SUPER easy way to get that classic shape without ruining my hands. There is a restaurant, called Irori Sanzoku (いろり山賊), not far from where my grandparents live, known for their GIGANTIC onigiri. Seriously, they are about the size of a curling stone. I LOVED going there!
Making onigiri at home is REALLY easy, but there are some considerations to take. You HAVE to use Japanese rice/sushi rice. No other rice like long-grain, jasmine, basmati, etc. will work. If making the onigiri ahead of time, pack your nori separately and simply wrap the onigiri in plastic wrap; leaving the nori on will result in it becoming soggy.
|You really don't need one of these....|
Onigiri (おにぎり) / Omusubi (おむすび) - Japanese Rice Balls
adapted from Just Hungry
Traditional onigiri is made with piping hot rice; you moisten your hands, sprinkle them with salt, then quickly mold the onigir by cupping your hands. The salt ends up sucking all of the moisture out of your hands, while the hot rice burns them, leaving you with hands that resemble cocktail shrimp.
|RIP, sweet Glenn Shadix. I appreciate you letting me Beetlejuice fangirl all over you when I saw you restoring your historic home in Bessemer.|
This method is MUCH easier on the hands.
Salt, preferably in a shaker
Water, preferably in a small mister or spray bottle
Onigiri fillings (here I have used umeboshi)
Small bowl (I use a plastic miso soup bowl and it's the PERFECT size)
Take your bowl and line it with a sheet of plastic wrap, big enough to hang over the edges. Press the plastic down into the bowl.
*You want a good-quality plastic wrap that is sturdy enough to hold up to the weight & heat of the rice, as well as all the molding. I've got NO issue with off-brands/store-brands, but I ALWAYS spend the extra money for Stretch-Tite. I also never cheap out on toilet paper or garbage bags.*
Lightly mist the inside of the bowl with water.
Sprinkle the inside of the wet bowl with salt, turning the bowl so that the sides get coated as well. Shake out any excess salt.
Using your finger, poke a hole in the center of the rice, about halfway down. If you're worried about the rice being too hot, do what I do and use the end of a wooden spoon.
Get rid of any excess air by twisting and squeezing the ball; twist the plastic wrap TIGHTLY to form a ball, squeezing as you go. If you want a round onigiri, cool. If you want a triangular one, simply cup your hands together (imagine you're holding a baby bumblebee, like the old children's song) and squeeze, then turn, then squeeze again.
If you're going to eat the onigiri right away, cover it with nori. Typically I use three sheets of nori; I simply wrap each of the three flat sides with a sheet of nori, positioning the onigiri in the center of the nori, and fold the nori sheet around to cover both sides of the onigiri.
If you're not going to eat the onigiri right away, leave it in the plastic wrap and take the nori with you.