It’s been a while since I’ve done an Aiba Manabu (相葉マナブ) review. The October 13th episode left me totally befuddled – it seemed to jump too quickly from topic to topic for me to follow without a translation, and I found I couldn’t review it to my own satisfaction. I couldn’t find the October 20th episode anywhere, even though I’m not sure, I think there might not have been one that week.

So, that brings us to this episode, which is the complete opposite of the Oct. 13th episode in that it is clearly focused on one thing.

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Onigiri is deceptively simple, yet I’m sure that we’re going to find out the intricacies of it in this episode.

Why, though do we have to discover onigiri with these two?

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Watabe-san has really gotten on my bad side because of his role in the Tokyo Ii Mise Kudoi Mise segment on Arashi ni Shiyagare – I associate him so strongly with that boring segment that I despair every time I see him. Sawabe-san isn’t so bad, but the only person who has been on this show more of than him is Aiba-kun.

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It probably goes without saying that there are different kinds of onigiri, and so the show begins with a popularity ranking. as an example, #4 is tuna mayonnaise, #5 is konbu, but some of the other ones aren’t as descriptive. What do you suppose the top three are?

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If you guessed cod roe for #2, you’d be right. I’ll leave #1 and #3 as a surprise for those who want to watch and play along.

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They are aiming for the ultimate onigiri (kyuukyoku no onigiri), and presumably not necessarily the most popular.

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Their first stop was the rice specialist. Now, I know that the rice I buy is not the best rice for onigiri, so what is? (not that I’d be able to get it where I live . . . .)

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The detail they go into is literally grain-by-grain:

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I don’t know what the hibernation point was about, but I was totally unsurprised to learn that rice is not suited to being stored in the refrigerator. I really don’t know who would think it was.

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I don’t get why you’d do this, but the recommendation is to put the rice in plastic bottles like this and put them in the vegetable bin in the fridge.

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The rice they have seems to come in some very fancy bags costing a whopping 1400 yen for just 1 kilogram. I usually get 9 kg bags for around $20-25, but this upscale rice would cost around $126 for that same bag. No wonder they started off with how to store it properly!

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And let’s face it, who wouldn’t want to get rice in a bag that had a cute character on the front? I’m sure there’s a lot to it that I didn’t understand, though – the rice master sure had a lot to say about it.

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Eventually, they asked him which of the various varieties on display was best suited to onigiri, and it was the koshi ibuki type, which retains water to get a mochi (sticky) texture.

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Next was salt, and this was amazing – I’ve never even imagined that there were so many varieties of salt as were on display in this shop.

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Are there salt specialists like this in the U.S.?

Aiba-kun did a little taste test to detect the difference.

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This is expensive stuff, though – 525 yen for just 33 grams! You’re definitely not going to see this stuff on the shelves of a regular store!

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Watabe-san and Sawabe-san had to pick out the nori. Frankly, the fact that there are a huge variety of seaweeds surprised me much less than the salt did.

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Sniff first.

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The texture is different on the two sides of each sheet:

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You heat the nori up to make it pliable and to bring out the smell and flavor.

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This turns out to be a more delicate part of the preparation, and the specialist gets really nervous about the way Watabe-san is doing it, eventually grabbing it back to ensure it’s done properly.

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So, we have all the basic ingredients.

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It’s time to do some cooking with the help of . . .

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. . . well, I suppose I’ll call her an onigiri production specialist, but I’m sure her field of expertise is broader than that.

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Aiba-kun is at the helm (thankfully) with the other two a safe distance away. I chuckled when Watabe-san rolled up his sleeves.

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I honestly want to make some good onigiri now. Can I understand enough of this to make it happen?

They begin by washing the rice, retaining the water used in the process for some reason.

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Aiba-kun splashed a bit, and that drew two exclamation marks.

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She had him massage the rice for a surprising amount of time – I have no idea about this phase . . .

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. . . but apparently it’s supposed to look like this by the end:

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When cooking the rice, the ideal proportion of water to rice is apparently 1.2 to 1. Good to know in case I have to make rice without a cooker that has those convenient markings on the inside for the water level (and I guess maybe if I make onigiri after writing this article, I’ll have to try to do it like they showed – on the stove top).

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Here’s the timing for the process – soak for 30 minutes, medium heat for 10, weak heat for 10, steam for 15 minutes.

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Okay, maybe I won’t do it like that. You can’t give me a craving for onigiri and expect me to wait an extra 40 minutes longer than my rice cooker would take! But is it necessary to do it like this to get the right consistency?

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Time to reveal how the rice turned out:

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That . . . looks like rice. The “whoa” from the guys as if they had never seen or smelt rice before was totally unjustified.

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But here’s the trick – can you get it to the right shape?

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As you’d expect, Aiba-kun’s had the best shape. Watabe-san’s was abysmal, and Sawabe-san’s was . . . big.

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And there you have it.

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In terms of food episodes, I never mind it if they go through how to make it. And since this show is supposed to be about all the things that make Japan great, I’d definitely have to concede that onigiri is something worth highlighting.

More than preparing the rice, salt, and nori, though, they should have paid some attention to the filling. Also, they didn’t even show an example of the cute characters onigiri is regularly turned into, even though that’s an aspect of its greatness. Not even a single panda onigiri!

Anyway, it looks like Aiba Manabu is still chugging along just fine, even though I feel like they need some fresh faces as Aiba-kun’s helpers.