July 28, 2021

Rice, rice, baby

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World-famous chefs Narisawa Yoshihiro (成澤由浩, of Tokyo's Narisawa) and Hamada Hisato (浜田寿人, of Wagyumafia) got together a few months ago for a project to deliver food to front line healthcare workers in Japan - which also helps Japanese rice farmers as well as sake brewers.  What they chose to deliver are onigiri (おにぎり), which is most often made by moms for their loved ones as breakfast or lunch, and is therefore seen as a gift of love and care.  They named their project Onigiri for Love.  The two chefs then called on others to join them in their movement, and chefs from around the world have answered that call to varying degrees.

Here in Hong Kong, the onigiri squad has been led by Richard Ekkebus of Amber, Matt Abergale of Yardbird and Ronin, and Elliot Faber of Sake Central. They rounded up a number of the city's most well-known chefs, and together they created 13 different onigiris. These were sold in the pop-up known as BELOWGROUND in the Landmark, and the proceeds are meant to be donated to two charities: ImpactHK and Feeding Hong Kong. As Tigger is one of the people who helped to found the latter, and I contribute to the charity from time to time, I figured the least I could do was to lend my support by spreading the love.

Over two separate days, I braved the blistering heat and trekked down to grab myself some rice balls during lunch. I ended up being able to try 8 out of the 13, as I was a little late to the game and missed the offerings at the start of this special promotion.

From Peggy Chan of Grassroots - I was initially a little bummed about having to take this one, because as much as I do like jackfruit as a fruit, serving it with spicy mayo didn't sound very appetizing. I could not have been more wrong. This turned out to be the biggest surprise, as the filling was creamy and pretty delicious. Made with Hakucho brown rice (はくちょう玄米) from Hokkaido.

From Richard Ekkebus of Amber - I was a little curious about how foie gras would work in a ball of rice, and I was surprised to find it paired with sliced pickled ginger (がり) and diced pickled radish (沢庵), as the acidity meant to cut through the fat of the fatty liver ended up being simply too sharp. The hijiki (ひじき) was nice with the Komachi (こまち) rice from Akita Prefecture (秋田県).

From Danny Yip of The Chairman (大班樓) - this certainly looked very pretty, with the two façades having completely different looks.

The smoked char siu (叉燒) had been shredded so it wasn't as obvious in terms of texture, but the flavors were certainly there. The best part of was the Chinese Provence rose (荼薇) pickled in sugar, as the floral fragrances were delightful. The pickled mustard leaves kinda got a little lost but I didn't mind that. Made with Koshihikari (コシヒカリ) from Taiwan.

From Maxime Gilbert of Écriture - I kinda remember the "veal XO" from a lunch at Écriture last year, and this time the shredded veal actually included springy bits of veal intestines. There was definitely a hint of spice here, and the acidity of the rice vinegar used to marinate the Akidawara (あきだわら) from Niigata Prefecture (新潟県) was pretty obvious. The pollen that was sprinkled on the outside of the rice ball was fairly interesting and kinda worked with the veal XO.

From Vicky Cheng of VEA - not usually one to be impressed easily by the word "wagyu", the use of burnt ends by Vicky would turn out to be a stroke of genius, as the charring delivered the right about of fragrance and flavors. The honey with the soy sauce was pretty nice, and I loved the use of Chinese preserved mustard greens (梅菜) here. Rice was Komachi from Akita Prefecture.

From Matt Abergale of Ronin - of all the chefs behind the onigiris I tasted, Matt is the only one who actually cooks Japanese cuisine. So it came as no surprise that this was my favorite. First of all, the Haenuki (はえぬき) rice from Yamagata Prefecture (山形県) was a lot more wet, to the point of being slightly mushy. This meant that the rice grains kinda fused together, and the ball remained completely intact as I peeled away the wrapping paper. Every other rice ball had grains of rice stuck to the paper, but not this one. The flavors of the ingredients were also infused into the rice itself, whereas for other rice balls, the rice didn't have too much flavor other than from the rice vinegar used. Finally, the liberal use of sansho (山椒) powder and sansho leaves (木の芽) meant that not only was the fragrance immediately apparent as I unwrapped the packaging, but I also got to enjoy a little of that numbing, tingling sensation on the tongue.

And what a coincidence that I ended up eating this on this year's doyono ushinohi (土用の丑の日)!

From Agustin Balbi of Andō - I must admit that I found this one a little plain... The mayo was more prominent than the sweet shrimp (甘エビ), but Goldfinger's favorite Yumepirika (ゆめぴりか) from Hokkaido remained on the bland side, in spite of the furikake (ふりかけ) made of chives and seaweed. This one reminded me of the simple onigiri that housewives would make for their husbands or kids where, before one gets to the filling in the center, one pretty much only tastes the plain rice with the first bite. Maybe Goldfinger is giving us a glimpse of the kind of love he regularly receives from his Japanese wife? Of course, I didn't ask Goldfinger, and this is just me talking shit out of my ass...

From Richardo Chanton of MONO - I was happier with the offering from the other half of the Bromance Twins.  The kiwicha seeds all over the rice would immediately add crunch in addition to some fragrance, and the filling made with creamy avocado along with shredded chicken was certainly tasty.  Jicama would provide even more crunch in the center of the rice ball.

Glad to have finally jumped on the bandwagon during the last week, and this is a reminder that I should donate more money to Feeding Hong Kong!

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