LOS ANGELES — I get loyalty cards from nail salons, coffee retailers and carwashes, but the only a single I can ever retain protected is from Jichan’s Onigiri-ya in Monterey Park. The occupied rice ball store sells heat, tender, generously loaded onigiri shaped to order, and soon after amassing 10 stamps on its cards of goofy, grinning, cartoon onigiri, diners get a solitary rice ball on the property.
It’s just a few bites, but it’s a thrill. Will my reward onigiri be stained purple with salty, pickled plums, and wrapped in a large, frilly-edged perilla leaf? Or will it maintain a piece of silky broiled salmon, the edges of the rice dark and crisp from the grill? I’m drawn to the onigiri made with rice that is soaked in dashi, but if the pickled eggplant onigiri is on the menu, anything else just fades absent.
When Jichan’s owners, Joe Miyano and Akira Yoshimura, were increasing up, onigiri was their ease and comfort foodstuff. Mr. Miyano’s grandfather, who grew and pickled his individual plums in Chiba, shaped onigiri with home made umeboshi for his grandson’s breakfast. The entrepreneurs were being also motivated by Musubi Cafe Iyasume, a chain that specializes in Hawaiian-fashion rice balls, recognized as musubi.
They puzzled why fresh onigiri weren’t additional generally identified on restaurant menus, and weren’t valued like the nigiri capped with slivers of fish at sushi bars.
Even though nigiri and onigiri share a comparable method — hand-formed items of rice — the two are completely distinct. In section, that’s due to the fact of the way the genres are frequently perceived — just one deluxe and qualified, the other affordable and domestic. In her book “Rice Craft,” the author Sonoko Sakai set it this way: “Sushi is manufactured by a chef onigiri is manufactured by moms.”
Nevertheless that rule has loads of exceptions, it could support to explain the divide. While there are regional (and residence) rice ball traditions, onigiri is pushed by the playfulness and practicality of home cooks.
Your favourite pickle in the fridge? Chop it up and place it in some onigiri. A tiny piece of fish from yesterday’s meal? Period it with some yuzu juice and a little mayonnaise and place it in some onigiri, stretching it into a new meal.
One particular of my beloved rice balls at the minute is the very simple ume shiso onigiri, or the crunchy hemp and chia seed onigiri, at Super Loaded, David Wynn’s onigiri shop in Echo Park. I adore how if you are getting the foods to go, the kitchen area packs massive sheets of nori independently, so you can wrap at your leisure, and the seaweed doesn’t get soggy.
Portion of the attraction of onigiri is that it’s so moveable. If created with imagined and care, a very good rice ball will not deteriorate just after a bumpy journey in the automobile, or a tiny time in the fridge. When Mr. Yoshimura visited 7-Eleven places in Tokyo, he was struck by the hanjuku nigiri in their aisles — a marinated, soft-boiled egg, strapped to a seasoned rice ball with an additional-wide seatbelt of nori. It encouraged Jichan’s onsen nigiri, with its comfortable, sticky, molten yolk.
Still, the finest onigiri is normally just-manufactured, nonetheless warm, the rice tender all the way by. The sort holds, the grains cling alongside one another, but evenly. The rice has not been smushed. The rice has not been overcooked, possibly. The rice has absolutely no bite, but it is not remotely mushy. It’s not that the fillings really don’t subject, it’s just that the rice matters most.
Most onigiri stores use sushi rice, or some wide range of shorter-grained sticky rice, and it’s not unconventional to see large, singing rice cookers on their counters. Jichan’s kitchen functions with Tamanishiki, a small-grain rice they were being thrilled to find growing domestically. (Mr. Miyano referred to it as “the Rolls-Royce of sushi rice.”) And at Tremendous Loaded, Mr. Wynn utilizes a blend of imported Akitakomachi and Koshihikari rice.
Rike, a sleek onigiri store in downtown Los Angeles, designs its onigiri with pearly Yukitsubaki developed in the Niigata Prefecture. Hisato Takenouchi, who owns the Japanese accessory brand Nana-nana, opened Rike in 2019, and his shop’s well-groomed onigiri practically give his style track record absent. The rice balls are unusually dainty and quite, minuscule compared with the hulking musubi I enjoy with thick slices of Spam, or the onigiri wrapped close to fried hen thighs.
Rike’s rice balls are teeny, loaded with shreds of mock meat dressed in curry sauce, or flecked with shiso. They demand from customers a photograph, by the window, in the good mild. But this isn’t a criticism as significantly as an advisory: Order a few added.
Jichan’s Onigiri-ya, 1975 Portrero Grande Push, Suite A, Monterey Park, Calif. 626-782-7754 jichansonigiri.com
Rike, 228 East Very first Avenue, Los Angeles 213-265-7673 rike-dtla.com
Super Loaded, 1814 West Sunset Boulevard, Echo Park 213-822-2103 superrich.la