Known to many in the English-speaking world simply as rice balls, onigiri are as much a part of daily life in Japan as sandwiches are in the West. Although they’re often eaten as snacks or included along with a handful of other items as a packed lunch, for many Japanese onigiri are the ultimate comfort food; something that, no matter which part of the country they find themselves in, they can easily make or pick up from a convenience store.

Of course, store-bought onigiri can never come close to those pressed into shape by someone who knows their way around a rice cooker, but they always hit the spot nevertheless, and hundreds of thousands of these little lumps of savoury goodness are eaten every single day. But what are Japan’s most loved convenience store rice balls? And do tastes vary from chain to chain? Well, according to a recent survey, there are three onigiri fillings that Japan is especially fond of.

Always curious to know more about the onigiri eating habits of Japan, the Japanese Onigiri Association (which is a real thing and which we think is wonderful purely for that reason) got together with the country’s biggest convenience store chains–namely 7-Eleven, FamilyMart and Lawson–to analyse onigiri sales data throughout 2014. It turns out that Japan has some very clear favourites, no matter which chain they visit.

You may be able to spot a bit of a trend here…

7-Eleven Ranking

Screen Shot 2014-12-09 at 11.29.51 AM1. Tuna Mayonnaise

A winning combination in sandwiches for decades, tuna-mayo takes the top spot in 7-Eleven’s onigiri ranking. Compared to more traditional fillings, tuna-mayo is a relative newcomer in the onigiri world, but it’s clear that people of Japan think it goes just fine with their rice and nori seaweed.

Screen Shot 2014-12-09 at 11.35.13 AM2. Salmon

Rich, salty salmon goes incredibly well with plain white rice, especially when warmed up. There are many varieties to be had, and salmon from Hokkaido is a firm favourite, but plain-old beni shake (“red” salmon) was popular enough to make it into the number two spot.

Screen Shot 2014-12-09 at 11.33.56 AM3. Sekihan (mochi rice with red beans)

This one came as a bit of a surprise to us. Sekihan is most often eaten on special occasions like New Year, but 7-Eleven’s patrons evidently took a shine to the rose-tinted rice ball with its belly-filling azuki beans. Definitely one for those with larger appetites!

FamilyMart Ranking

Screen Shot 2014-12-09 at 11.52.02 AM1. Salmon

FamilyMart shoppers preferred the simplicity of the store’s “chokumaki” (lit. “direct wrap”) style onigiri over anything else, but were even more fond of salmon than 7-Eleven shoppers, putting it in their top spot.

Screen Shot 2014-12-09 at 12.01.31 PM2. Sea Chicken Mayonnaise

Nothing to see here, folks, just some ocean-dwelling poultry in a rice ball. Peculiar name aside, FamilyMart shoppers also proved that tuna-mayo is a great combination.

Screen Shot 2014-12-09 at 12.07.04 PM3. Konbu

Okay, now this one some of you won’t have met before. A form of kelp, konbu (also written “kombu”) has long been a Japanese favourite. Slightly sweet but with a satisfying tang, konbu is not only a wallet-friendly onigiri option, it’s packed with fibre and a good source of vitamins and minerals.

Lawson Ranking

Screen Shot 2014-12-09 at 12.47.57 PM1: Sea Chicken Mayonnaise

Here we go again! Once again, tuna (it’s branded “sea chicken” but it’s the same thing) takes the top spot. We’re starting to wonder if it’s the added creamy-white ingredient more than the fish itself which is bolstering this onigiri’s popularity across Japan.

Screen Shot 2014-12-09 at 1.23.06 PM2: Hidaka Konbu

It might not scream “delicious” to you and me, but konbu–this time from Hokkaido’s Hidaka region–is back. Not only that, but it’s edged out salmon to take the number-two position.

Screen Shot 2014-12-09 at 2.00.42 PM3: Salmon

And, yep, it’s salmon again! It may be a slightly different cut (Lawson’s “harami” salmon comes from the belly of the fish, apparently), but this is still the same salty, flaky goodness Japan knows and loves. In at number three with a bullet.

Onigiri fillings aren’t limited to traditional Japanese ingredients (indeed, the Onigiri Association notes that 2014 was the year of the “meaty” onigiri, with fillings like beef and pork being popular choices), but there are a handful of fillings that Japan is clearly incredibly fond of, and we’d warrant that 2015’s sales data will once again be dominated by the above three. Unless someone manages to perfect that spaghetti bolognese onigiri I saw in one of my dreams a few nights back, that is…

What do you make of this ranking, Rocketeers? Do you have a favourite onigiri of your own? Does konbu belong in the top three or would you rather opt for something more exotic like ikura (salmon roe) or a Spam musubi? Let us know in the comments section below!

Feature image: RocketNews24
Insert images: 7-Eleven, FamilyMart, Lawson

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