Onigiri, also called Omusubi, is typically a triangular shaped ball of rice, wrapped in seaweed.
Years ago onigiri were made as a portable or preserved meal. Often times it was filled in the center with salted or pickled ingredients, such as umeboshi (pickled sour plums) or sake (salted salmon). This would keep the rice fresh until it was time to eat it, and was therefore often used as a meal taken on the road.
Somewhere along the line, these wonderful little meals became wrapped in seaweed, making them even more portable...like an Eastern version of a sandwich.
Onigiri in Japan Today
Today onigiri has taken on a whole new life. The old traditions still hold strong. Children bring sake-filled onigiri on their field trips, business men and women carry umeboshi or konbu (sweetened seaweed) onigiri for their lunch. But you can also grab a quick snack from the convenience store, (sometimes as cheap as a dollar!) that has a wide variety of fillings. Of course, I'm in love with all the traditional fillings, but my favorite modern onigiri would have to be sea chicken (warning: no actual chicken involved).
Onigiri in America
Onigiri is not well known in America, which I find to be very interesting. If you mention sushi, everyone will know exactly what you're talking about and most people will get very enthusiastic about the prospect of a gourmet meal. But actually, sushi was only ever eaten in Japan for very special occasions, maybe a few times a year. It's more common now to eat sushi, but choosing to eat sushi over onigiri is like choosing to eat steak over sandwiches. Yea, you'll take the steak any day, but in reality, you're way more likely to eat a sandwich on a regular day.
The popularity of onigiri is slowly starting to grow in the states, though. Mostly on the west coast and in larger cities like New York. At Sajima Onigiri, we're hoping to get a jump start on this market and grow the trend in the lower east coast. Naturally gluten free and with many vegan/vegetarian options, it's an amazing snack or light meal to brighten up your day.