Onigiri: Behold The Mighty Triforce


He zips around the lush pixelated world of Hyrule, battling monsters on his quest to save Princess Zelda, a sacred triangle perched atop his head. Link knows that the ancient relic holds great power, but what Link never learned is that the Triforce is also deeelicious.

I visited Japan with friends in fall of 2005, and while there, we made an amazing discovery: onigiri. As our days in Japan increased, the fatness of our wallets decreased, and we learned the true glory of this humble food. Onigiri is a Japanese convenience store food consisting of rice formed into a triangular cake around a center of something yummy (salmon, tuna, umeboshi [pickled sour plum], and kimchi are just some examples), and wrapped in seaweed. We ventured to say that the three elements that constituted this Triforce were rice for Wisdom, a shield of seaweed for Courage, and the Power of delicious fillings.

But perhaps the true magic of onigiri is its packaging (wow, a Japanese product with genius packaging. Big shocker). You see, wrapping onigiri comes with a challenge: if the seaweed has contact with the rice for more than a couple seconds, it gets soggy and sticky. But the ingenious Japanese came up with an elegant solution.

First, the seaweed is wrapped within a two-layer sheath of plastic.

The plastic protects the seaweed's inside from the rice's moisture, and its outside from external elements.

So, the seaweed is wrapped separately from the ricey triangle. Then, how do you get it out of the wrapper, without compromising the structural integrity of the mighty Triforce? Well, first, you pull down the tab that starts at the upper point of the triangle.

Note at this point, that the inside layer of the plastic sheath is split down the center. As you pull the tab all the way down and around the onigiri, the outer layer also splits down the center (are you seeing where this is going?).

Now, this next step is the culinary equivalent of the take-off-your-bra-without-taking-off-your-shirt trick.

You tug on each corner of the wrapper, now split in two, and, astonishingly, the wrapper slides right off the seaweed, leaving the mighty onigiri unwrapped and intact!

Okay, maybe not completely intact. You do have to fold the corners over. But a few quick tucks and a few quick bites, and you get to that all-powerful center.

See? Magical! Now, why would Link run around with this thing on his head when he could be eating it?

Convenience stores in Tokyo are pretty exceptional. In a city known for being prohibitively expensive, it's nice to know that on just about every corner, there's a friendly shop when you can get a substantive meal for the equivalent of a few dollars. You find a mix of US chains like 7-Eleven or am/pm and homegrown convenience stores, or combini, like FamilyMart and Lawsons. In addition to onigiri, you can get little packages of egg salad, hot steamed buns filled with seasoned pork, and even the occasional sandwich. And in today's gloriously shrinking world, Japan's Family Mart has dressed itself up with gourmet snacks and sleek stylings and brought its act to the states as Famima!! (that's right, the two exclamation points are part of the name). Which means that the True Force to Govern All is just a buck-fifty away.

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Andrea Karim's picture

My Japanese host mother used to make me the umeboshi onigiri for school lunch. Bento is cool, but onigiri is hands down, my favorite memory of my time in Japan. Thanks for posting about this! I get them at Ranch 99, and we have a great place up here in Seattle and the surounding area called Uwajimaya.

Oh, and way to geek out, btw. You had me at Triforce.

Will Chen's picture

That looks like Lembas to me!

Guest's picture

Hi Tannaz!

I grew up with the stuff -- and I experienced "convini" stores on my trip to Tokyo last year -- oh how I wish they were here! (even a Famima!! closer to my house I'll take it)

Anyhow, my new fav is "Mentaiko" onigiri - spicy cod. Try it at Mitsuwa on Centinella food court. They don't have the cool crispy seaweed wrapping at this place, but their mentaiko is not cooked and dried out.

cheers : )