What Am I Eating? Onigiri, Translated
By Cynthia Popper
On April 10, 2014
Satisfying, cheap, plentiful—onigiri is the healthier alternative for your late-night konbini raids or mid-day “holy-crap-I’m-starving-and-have-no-time” moments. Onigiri (お握り “rice ball”) is a soft triangle or round form of rice, usually wrapped in nori, and stuffed with fish, pickles, roe… or something.
Here are a few I’ve tried, with kanji translations.
1) Yaki Tarako (Grilled Cod Fish Roe)
Salty, tiny bead eggs, often mixed with mayo. Not my favorite, but not horrendous either, tarako is popular in all kinds of Japanese dishes, from noodles to sushi, and is found in bentos and markets everywhere.
2) Bene Shake (Grilled Red Salmon)
There are several words for salmon. I’m learning them all because salmon is my friend.
So there’s shake (some say this is referring only to cooked salmon, some say that’s not true—the salmon in this onigiri was definitely cooked)
4) Salmon Mayo
This is one of my favorites, because a) it tastes yum and b) I can read it.
5) Hokkaido Salmon and Ikura
Ikura is salmon roe, the big, orange, bubble eggs, and Hokkaido is famous for having the best salmon roe in Japan. Ikura is in loads of Japanese dishes, and is especially popular in chirashi sushi (bowl of sushi rice topped with loads of fish. So yum!).
Other fillings include:
Umezuke (梅漬け) pickled ume (Japanese plum)
Konbu (昆布) kelp
Mentaiko (明太子) another cod roe
Pickled takana (高菜 ) mustard greens
Okaka (おかか) is flakes of hard smoked Bonito… this is also known as katsuobushi (鰹節)- the dried fish flakes (it’s a different fish than bonito).
There are countless options to choose from, but knowing a few of the kanji can keep you from getting a mouthful of OOHNO.
Mystery Food Tips:
I keep shots of my favorites on my phone until I memorize them. Lawson’s has photos next to the onigiri so you at least have an idea of what you’re getting. Handy!
If you a have favorite, post a pic and description below in the comments!