Review: Simply Onigiri by Sanae Inada

[vc_row full_width=”” parallax=”” parallax_image=””][vc_column width=”2/3″][vc_custom_heading text=”Reviewer: Anna Chan” font_container=”tag:h3|text_align:left” google_fonts=”font_family:Abril%20Fatface%3Aregular|font_style:400%20regular%3A400%3Anormal”][vc_column_text]Sanae Inada’s book has lifted my perception of the humble Onigiri. My first impression was that it was just a triangular white rice ball filled with fish and wrapped in seaweed, a little meal or snack that you could buy at Japanese convenience stores as an afterthought. I just never looked at rice as anything more than a staple.

What could be so special about balls of rice? Well, we have chicken rice balls in Malaysia, savoury crisp round rice crackers from Thailand and stuffed rice and meat dumplings in Chinese culture.  Like onigiri, none of them are usually what one associates with fine-dining. As Inada mentions at the start of the book, onigiri is considered soul food and you would be hard-pressed to find onigiri in restaurants.

Perhaps onigiri rice balls are something that resonates more strongly with home cooking.  It’s very simplicity reflects the necessity of food in the belly without too much fanfare. That a whole book should be dedicated to rice balls, I realise is a statement on the importance of rice. The book itself is like an onigiri, masterfully filled with colourful and delicious ideas on its white pages.

I had a lot of fun and little surprises going though Inada’s recipes. Besides traditional Japanese ingredients such as  like miso, soy sauce, plum, bonito flakes, fish and beancurd, she suggests unlikely ingredients and condiments such potato chips, cheese, bacon, spam and fish sauce, among other ingredients that one would probably find in a lot of modern larders.

Inada mentions the importance of using ingredients that reflect the seasons and regions. Out of the few dozen beautifully decorated and uniquely Japanese onigiri recipes in this book, a few recipes are a nod to the South East Asian region – Chicken Rice onigiri, Prawn Nam Pla Takikoma Gohan Onigiri and Dry Curry Onigiri, to name a few.

Her recipes make me feel confident of success as they are so simple. Her directions are incredibly clear. Inada makes onigiri relevant and approachable for non-Japanese beginner home cooks. If you are a beginner home cook you can start learning from it, and if you are an expert you can draw inspiration from her aesthetic and creative use of ingredients.

As for me, I decided to go with three recipes, Kinpira Gobou (simmered burdock root), edamame bean and smoked salmon onigiri simply because of how they would look and taste together on a plate. The earthiness and fibrous texture of burdock root with carrot, the vivid green of the beans and the natural pink of smoked salmon just seemed very attractive to me.

I found that there was something very fun about rolling and lightly squeezing rice balls in my hands and decorating them. I think I can throw out my little rubber stress balls now. As I write this, I am contemplating doing the cheese stuffed grilled onigiri next. :))[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_gallery type=”nivo” interval=”3″ images=”84,85,86,87,89″ onclick=”link_image” custom_links_target=”_self” img_size=”medium”][vc_widget_sidebar sidebar_id=”gp-standard-sidebar”][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Ning Cai is a Singapore Literature Prize nominated author, who was also long listed for the Epigram Books Fiction Prize in 2016. A bestselling writer, she is also recognised for her illusionist/ escapologist stage character Magic Babe Ning, and recognised by Channel News Asia as South East Asia's first professional female magician.

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