In Hayao Miyazaki’s “Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi (Spirited Away)” there is a scene where Haku, offers Sen, an onigiri (rice ball) , and tells her to eat so she can keep up her spirits. As Sen eats them, she starts crying – and although this is an animated film, it brought me to tears. There’s something comforting about the weight and feel of an onigiri, as well as a very familiar smell of rice, nori (seaweed) and depending on the seasoning, the fragrant smells of ume-shiso (pickled plum and perilla leaves) powder, or nutty sesame seeds. My mother packed triangular ones – and we often took onigiri and boiled eggs on road trips as a quick meal. I still remember the weight of the onigiri in my hands, a palpable souvenir of mother’s love in the form of a simple rice ball – portable sustenance and a reflection of Japanese culinary, cultural, and historic reverence for rice.
Jiji and Baba suggested I start making onigiri for my older daughter’s mini-lunch at Japanese school, so I took on the challenge. I bought a small bag of sprouted brown rice at the Japanese store, and had a fresh batch of steamed rice ready on Saturday morning.
I made two types. One type had a pre-mixed onigiri seasoning I received in a care package – and the other one had a center of mentaiko or seasoned pollack roe. I mixed the onigiri seasoning into some fresh rice, and after it was well incorporated, I wet my hands, took a deep breath, and started making the onigiri.
Based on the photo of my first try – I don’t think I did too poorly. Perhaps a bit misshapen – and a little lopsided… but it tasted fine! My older daughter had one for breakfast, and took one for lunch – I did the same.
On our ride home, she told me, “Mama, can you make the rice-ballie again?”
I’ll have to figure out how to increase other grains while retaining the rice’s stickiness. Practice will make perfect… I just have to prepare to eat a lot of my mistakes!