In Japan, there is a beautiful little sour plum that they call ume. Ume are small, green, hard, very sour and not edible as they are. Instead, they are processed in many different ways that render them edible. They can be turned into Umeshu (a fantastic "wine" seen in the image below), candies, syrups, and pickles. Their flowers are beautiful and used as decoration almost as often as the more commonly known Sakura (cherry blossoms). These are actually the flowers we chose to decorate our food truck with!
Umeboshi is the process of salting and pickling the ume fruit until it becomes a very sour and salty, flavor-packed ingredient that is often found in most bento boxes. It is also one of the original ingredients used in onigiri. The saltiness of this ingredient helped people keep their rice preserved before there was refrigeration. Keeping one umeboshi on top of a bowl of rice could help keep the rice fresh for hours, even days. Not to mention, the intense flavor this small ingredient has is the perfect compliment to plain, white rice. A traditional bento box would have one section full of sides, and one section full of rice. And on top of the rice would sit a single umeboshi. If you're fortunate enough to be able to try this one day, take care not to swallow the pit!
We decided to keep umeboshi as a permanent part of our menu because we really wanted at least one thing that was very traditional to introduce our neighborhood to. Ume was an easy choice for us. It's so easy to keep, easy to prepare, and so deliciously refreshing. However, this food is the epitome of acquired taste....at first, you either love it or you hate it. Some of our customers love this onigiri and purchase at least one each time they purchase a meal. It's such a great palate cleanser. I personally love finishing off my meal with my ume onigiri, especially after eating something greasy like Karaage. Other customers, though, make a face like that of a child trying lemon for the first time, and absolutely hate it. I encourage those customers to continue trying it in small doses and bites after their lunch (maybe even ask for half the usual amount in the onigiri). I really do believe that you will grow to love this dish just as much as we do!