"The only real stumbling block is the fear of failure. In cooking, you have got to have a what-the-hell attitude." ~ Julia Child

Great balls of rice

by Julie Tilsner on March 9, 2007

in Adventures in Parenting

OnigirioneI lived in Japan for one summer in high school. This expanded my mind and ruined any hope I ever had of being a normal Southern California teenager whose only concerns in life were keeping her tan, driving her boyfriend’s Camaro and scoring tickets to the next Journey concert.

The experience lit my passion for travel. And more. Since I went through the Youth For Understanding Toyota Scholarship, I had to write an essay on some aspect of Japanese life. I was assigned food, a topic I was only too happy to tuck into. Among the details I wrote about: In Japan, it’s polite to slurp your noodles. Presentation of the food is at least (if not more) important than the taste of the food. And finally, one never eats rice by itself. Why not? It was never explained to me, as my host mother snatched my rice bowl out of my hand and rushed to cut up some fish to go on top of it. It’s just not done.

I’ve revisited Japan several times since then. But I haven’t been back since my brother got married to the wonderful Hiromi-chan about four years back. So who’s gonna know that I break that cardinal rule with inappropriate regularity?

OnigidimoldI found my O-nigiri mold, you see, and suddenly felt nostalgic. And O-nigiri is one thing my kids will eat. O-nigiri (pronounced, I always heard O-nigidi, with a “d.”) is a ball of sticky white rice shaped into a triangle. Typically it has a bit of fish or pickled plum in the middle. It’s usually wrapped in crispy seaweed. It’s the Japanese equivalent of a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich — casual home food, not something you normally find in restaurants. Moms stack them up for their kids’ lunch or picnics in clever little square containers. I ate two almost every day when I was in Japan (and washed it down with a big glass of Calpis), which might explain the sudden weight gain. My host mother made me several to take with me on the plane home but I ate them all in the airport. Oishi desu-ne??! Years later I stumbled across an O-nigiri mold at a Japanese market and promptly went home to try my hand.

As you can see in the photo above; I got the bug to make O-nigiri but not the bug to drive to Marukai and buy any nori, seasoned, crispy seaweed you can wrap O-nigiri in or eat out of hand. As I wrote about for Kids’ Cuisine, my kids are all over Japanese snacks. They eat nori like potato chips. A trip to Marukai, a huge Japanese supermarket not far from where I live, is always a treat. But not today. I had no fish to tuck into the middle, either. Nor did I dare stick in a pickled plum (which I did have, deep in the back of the fridge, fermenting freely), or sprinkle the top with sesame seeds or another seasoning. These authentic touches would have rendered the rice-ball inedible to my picky-ass progeny.

So I made them unadorned. And only screwed up the rice a little bit by putting in a bit too much water. I don’t do fractions well, and measurements not specifically spelled out in the instructions on the back of the bag of rice will invariably be my undoing.  My fourth-grade daughter knows better than to consult me for her math homework.

These plain balls of rice, which would have so insulted my otosan, were enthusiastically consumed by my nits. They did wonder where the seaweed was, though. A Marukai run is in order, I suspect.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Mister J March 10, 2007 at 12:42 pm

As a graduate of the California Sushi Academy ( http://www.sushi-academy.com ), I would be glad to offer you some tips if you would like them. Don’t hesitate to ask. And you don’t have to hit the Marukai or Mitsuwa anymore. Any Asian store will carry what you need especially if they are Korean or Chinese. Also you don’t need a friggin’ mold to make Onigiri, your two hands are the best mold to form these treats.


JL March 19, 2007 at 8:23 am

The wife can make perfectly shaped nigiri ranging from the tiny to the menacingly large, but in my uncouth hands they just end up looking misshapen and a little sad. I’d probably cheat and go for the mold, too. Or wait till she got home.


michael jones December 4, 2007 at 2:06 am

That looks so good! My kid is a picky eater but i am sure that he will just love it! Thank you for the great post!


Ryu January 4, 2009 at 8:30 am

Those molds are awesome. I usually mold them by hand but using the molds to make O-nigiri would make life easier. http://ddlwolf.com


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