LOS ANGELES — I get loyalty cards from nail salons, espresso retailers and carwashes, but the only a single I can ever continue to keep safe and sound is from Jichan’s Onigiri-ya in Monterey Park. The busy rice ball shop sells warm, tender, generously crammed onigiri shaped to buy, and after collecting 10 stamps on its cards of goofy, grinning, cartoon onigiri, diners get a single rice ball on the house.
It is just a couple of bites, but it’s a thrill. Will my bonus onigiri be stained purple with salty, pickled plums, and wrapped in a large, frilly-edged perilla leaf? Or will it keep a piece of silky broiled salmon, the edges of the rice dark and crisp from the grill? I’m drawn to the onigiri produced with rice which is soaked in dashi, but if the pickled eggplant onigiri is on the menu, all the things else just fades away.
When Jichan’s entrepreneurs, Joe Miyano and Akira Yoshimura, have been developing up, onigiri was their convenience foodstuff. Mr. Miyano’s grandfather, who grew and pickled his personal plums in Chiba, formed onigiri with handmade umeboshi for his grandson’s breakfast. The owners were also motivated by Musubi Cafe Iyasume, a chain that specializes in Hawaiian-model rice balls, known as musubi.
They questioned why refreshing onigiri weren’t more commonly observed on cafe menus, and weren’t valued like the nigiri capped with slivers of fish at sushi bars.
Although nigiri and onigiri share a identical technique — hand-formed pieces of rice — the two are completely diverse. In element, that is because of the way the genres are commonly perceived — a single luxurious and experienced, the other low-cost and domestic. In her ebook “Rice Craft,” the writer Sonoko Sakai place it this way: “Sushi is manufactured by a chef onigiri is made by mothers.”
Although that rule has a good deal of exceptions, it may perhaps aid to demonstrate the divide. Although there are regional (and residence) rice ball traditions, onigiri is pushed by the playfulness and practicality of home cooks.
Your favorite pickle in the fridge? Chop it up and set it in some onigiri. A very small piece of fish from yesterday’s dinner? Year it with some yuzu juice and a little mayonnaise and put it in some onigiri, stretching it into a new food.
Just one of my beloved rice balls at the instant 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 really like how if you are using the foods to go, the kitchen area packs substantial sheets of nori independently, so you can wrap at your leisure, and the seaweed doesn’t get soggy.
Portion of the attractiveness of onigiri is that it is so moveable. If produced with imagined and treatment, a very good rice ball will not deteriorate after a bumpy ride in the car, or a little time in the fridge. When Mr. Yoshimura frequented 7-Eleven destinations in Tokyo, he was struck by the hanjuku nigiri in their aisles — a marinated, tender-boiled egg, strapped to a seasoned rice ball with an extra-vast seatbelt of nori. It impressed Jichan’s onsen nigiri, with its soft, sticky, molten yolk.
Nonetheless, the greatest onigiri is normally just-created, nonetheless warm, the rice tender all the way by means of. The variety holds, the grains cling together, but lightly. The rice has not been smushed. The rice has not been overcooked, possibly. The rice has unquestionably no bite, but it is not remotely mushy. It’s not that the fillings really do not make any difference, it is just that the rice matters most.
Most onigiri shops use sushi rice, or some assortment of quick-grained sticky rice, and it is not unconventional to see significant, singing rice cookers on their counters. Jichan’s kitchen area functions with Tamanishiki, a quick-grain rice they had been thrilled to discover expanding domestically. (Mr. Miyano referred to it as “the Rolls-Royce of sushi rice.”) And at Tremendous Prosperous, Mr. Wynn makes use of a mix of imported Akitakomachi and Koshihikari rice.
Rike, a modern onigiri store in downtown Los Angeles, designs its onigiri with pearly Yukitsubaki grown in the Niigata Prefecture. Hisato Takenouchi, who owns the Japanese accent manufacturer Nana-nana, opened Rike in 2019, and his shop’s nicely-groomed onigiri just about give his manner track record away. The rice balls are unusually dainty and fairly, minuscule when compared with the hulking musubi I appreciate with thick slices of Spam, or the onigiri wrapped close to fried chicken thighs.
Rike’s rice balls are teeny, crammed with shreds of mock meat dressed in curry sauce, or flecked with shiso. They demand a photograph, by the window, in the good light-weight. But this is not a complaint as considerably as an advisory: Purchase a couple more.
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
Tremendous Prosperous, 1814 West Sunset Boulevard, Echo Park 213-822-2103 superrich.la