Also known as “omusubi” or “nigirimeshi,” the humble onigiri rice ball has long served Japan as a meal on-the-go, tiny compressed triangles that fit in your pocket. Sporadically documented throughout history, onigiri as we know them today were eaten during the Heian period, although, there’s archeological evidence of rice molding in Japan from over 2000 years ago. A convenient snack in Japan, onigiri are simply made of Japanese rice and nori (seaweed) wrapped around a wide range of fillings. There are classic flavors like salmon or tuna, or fillings of sweetened kombu (kelp), but for some snackers out there, the simple salty onigiri is inexplicably addictive, while others are committed to the classic tuna mayo. Tasty and functional, simple yet satisfying, onigiri are inexpensive, easy to make, and portable.
From sour umeboshi (pickled plum) to stretchy natto soybeans, there is a range of diverse and divisive fillings available; exciting surprises lie in the center of the tidy seaweed packages. Try tasty tenmusu (a popular prawn tempura onigiri) in Nagoya or spam onigiri in Okinawa, or pick up an onigiri in Kyushu that’s filled with sweetened seaweed. Grab one that’s handmade at your local specialty shop, or pick up an onigiri from a konbini (convenience store). Even better, learn the onigiri making technique during a bento cooking class in Kyoto or discover Tokyo’s oldest onigiri shop during a food tour. A quintessential Japanese fast food, this tiny ball of bliss will satisfy anyone, anytime, anywhere.