Home Food I: Onigiri
When one is displaced from a deep and regular way of living, with its everydayness, their scents and sounds. And food:
Those things become important, usually, for the rest of your life.
In displacement, one sometimes needs that particular food to nourish the soul, so to speak, to revisit the sound of Mama’s voice, or the sound of birds chirping outside, or the rush of palm trees or bamboo, or the quiet.
Often, in the turbulent after-war years, these things that nourish us are the only things that help us survive and stay the only thing stable in an otherwise changing life.
So I will begin posting some things that I and some of my colleagues and friends, have noted to be important foods in the Amerasian and Black Pacific experience.
This first one is from my own experience living in postwar Japan. Onigiri おにぎり, or Omusubi おむすび. Rice Balls.
In Japan, this is a centuries-old tradition. For trips, snacks, lunches and sometimes dinner, the diverse ways in which Onigiri is lovingly made, by Mama, or by a master chef, is timeless.
Of course I still make some for myself. But my late Mama always made the best, in different shapes, with different things hidden inside, or beside them in a bento box.
Fried (yaki), on skewers (kushi), plain, or with nori wrap, or Hawaiian spam or other sweet meat, sometimes made with fried rice, any vegetable or fish or meat inside, or not, with sesame seeds or not……. love them all.
At the time of his death, my Nisei father owned a T-shirt that said “Go riceballs!” and had a drawing of dancing stick figure onigiri on it. Being raised in Ohio, I always heard my parents talk about “nigiri” and “musubi,” without the honorific “o” prefix. Ours usually had an umeboshi inside, were triangular, and were sprinkled with toasted black sesame seeds (goma). They were a big treat for us, set in a plastic box lined with waxed paper, with a lid on top, taken on picnics, along with fried chicken and canned black olives and a cucumber salad made with rice wine vinegar. I have a particular emotional reaction to beautifully homemade onigiri and omusubi, a strong feeling of love and connection, that has not been passed on to my yonsei son, although he loves Japanese white rice.
Evidently, the old school way of making rice balls in my grandparents’ generation was to make them round instead of triangular. However, I’ve only heard of that shape — have never seen it.