Onigiri is a Japanese rice ball filled with fillings. It can be filled with various types of fillings or plain, and can be found easily around Japan in convenient stores, restaurants and train stations. Like maki sushi or sushi rolls it is wrapped with nori (seaweed) and filled but it isn’t rolled, and its rice is not seasoned with vinegar like sushi, although it can be.
Most famously, onigiri is known to have a triangular shape, but it doesn’t always have to be. In Kyushu, they are moulded into a round shape and some people in the Kansai region mould it into a bolster pillow shape. There are many theories on why the triangular shape became the most common, but one is that triangular shaped onigiri is easier to store and carry around.
There is no specific formula for onigiri. You can mould it into any shape you want, use as much or as little nori as you want, mix the filling throughout the rice or concentrate it just in the middle, and use any fillings you want from last night’s leftovers to premium wagyu. The point is for it to be quick to make and easy to carry to the picnic, school, or to work.
But if you’re looking for a recipe or two to start you off, here are two of our favorites:
Basic Onigiri Rice
makes 2 big onigiri
14 oz cooked short grain sticky rice (like sushi rice)
1 Tbsp sesame oil
2 square shaped nori
1. Mix in rice and sesame oil in a medium bowl.
2. Roll half of the rice into a round shape using hands. Flatten the ball with your palm creating a well in the center. Put fillings in the center and cover the filling with the outer parts of rice moulding into the round shape again. Shape the ball into a triangle shape. Wrap the bottom part with nori. Repeat the process for the second onigiri.
Tuna Mayo Filling
For 2 big onigiri
3.5 oz Canned tuna
¼ Sweet onion
2 Tbsp Mayonnaise
½ tsp sugar
1. Drain off the oil in the canned tuna.
2. Dice the onion.
3. Mix all the ingredients in a small bowl.
For 2 big onigiri
3 oz ground beef
3 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp corn syrup
1. Heat a small pan over high heat. When the pan is heated, turn down the heat to medium and stir in ground beef for 1 minute until the outside is cooked.
2. Pour in soy sauce and corn syrup. Cook until the sauce is boiled down.
Again, you can have as much freedom as you want when making onigiri. Personally, I prefer making one big onigiri that is enough for one meal, so I make onigiri out of one bowl of rice, but the size is up to you. When preparing rice, some people like to go simple and add sesame oil or salt and some people like to add in more flavor by mixing in some side dishes like scrambled egg and tazukuri (candied sardines). You can really customize your onigiri to your tastes. Maybe this is the reason why almost all Japanese people love onigiri.
Struggling with leftovers from last night? How about making onigiri for lunch today?