On a whim, I signed us up for another food workshop that was held last night at Abokichi. I didn’t really tell hubs much about the course, but I think he had a fun time. Hey, anything that puts food in his belly is good. This all happened because I saw that Alimentari was offering a stuffed pasta course at the Dep, but when I tried to book, it was sold out. So I checked the Pitchfork Co. website, as Alimentari holds workshops at both places. Sadly, I did not see the same workshop offered, but I saw a workshop for onigiri. The drawback, this workshop was for families, meaning there was a chance that children could be involved, which could turn the class into more of a daycare. I decided to check out Abokichi, just to see what they were all about, since I knew nothing about them or even what onigiri was. Lucky me, I noticed that they were hosting a workshop directly! Turns out, their location (Dupont & Spadina) is not that easy for us to get to, especially when there are road closures throughout the city, but that’s not part of this story.
Abokichi, which means, “fortunate avocado” in Japanese, specializes in Japanese rice balls, known as onigiri. The workshop began with a brief history of rice and culture in Japan, followed by instructions on how to cook the perfect rice to make onigiri. As soon as the rice was ready, we headed down to the kitchen and watched a demo on how to hand-shape the rice. At our workstation, hubs and I attempted this. My hands were sticky from the rice, so I did not get a photo, but apparently my rice ball turned out to be a massive snowball, which highly amused co-owner Fumi so she politely asked if she could take a photo for herself.
The key is to have rice that’s sticky but not mushy, and you want to work with it while it’s still hot. The bowl of cold water is used to both keep the rice from sticking too much to your hands, and to help keep your hand cool. Seriously, it’s hot rice! And for the record, the water doesn’t really cool the hand significantly. I tried a couple of times to hand-shape, but no matter how I tried, I could not get my pieces to look triangular. My pieces always turned into balls.
Enter the onigiri rice mold, the dream product for the inept onigirist (that’s me).
We were offered a number of different fillings, including pickled plum, kelp, salmon, grilled pumpkin, and their house-made chili oil. I actually liked the pickled plum, and the salmon. My least favourite was the grilled pumpkin, which I found too sweet. Maybe I should have added some of the chili oil to it.
We were allowed to eat as we made, which is how hubs and I started, but everyone else was stock piling their onigiri, so we caved to the pressure and quickly started making more to take home.
Co-owners, Jess and Fumi, were explaining to us how popular onigiri is in Japan. It’s the equivalent of a sandwich, though apparently healthier and completely gluten-free. They can be found in convenience stores throughout Japan, and although the idea of room temp rice “sandwiches” does not sound appealing, they move off the shelves quickly.
Notice the nori (seaweed) we are using. It’s wrapped in plastic. We were told this is what is used in the convenience store onigiri use because they are designed to be easy to unwrap. It’s true, but it’s not very environmentally friendly.
We purchased a jar of the chili oil, which is not at all spicy, but has a nice flavour. I loved the wooden molds, but the truth is, it’s just as easy to make with our hands, even if mine turn out to be balls instead of triangles. It gets wrapped in nori and gets eaten, by me. I’m not looking to win any awards for the shape of my onigiri.
We’ve put our stash in the freezer. I’ll thaw one overnight for breakfast tomorrow. It’s a fun workshop for anyone that is interested in Japanese food. The product is tasty, and you can absolutely make it your own by filling it with whatever you like. Hubs joked that we should add Chinese sausage to it, and he listed other savoury ingredients found in Chinese rice dumplings. What a jokester! In truth, they are similar in that they both contain stuffed rice, but onigiri is much easier to eat on the go. You need utensils to eat a Chinese rice dumpling; it’s not an eat-and-walk food item. I would need 2-3 onigiri for a lunch, whereas a single rice dumpling can be a meal in itself.
If you’re interested in trying your hand at making this Japanese snack (or just snacking on an onigiri), keep an eye on their website, or give them a shout at 416-513-1333.