Onigiri (rice balls) also called omusubi is Japan’s brilliant, versatile and endlessly creative answer to savory sandwiches. It is completely portable and you can take onigiri to school excursions, exams, picnics…well just about anywhere. For an added treat, you can grill the onigiri, wrap in nori (seaweed) if desired and serve hot. Typical shapes of rice balls are triangles, rounds or ovals. Oh yes, wrapping your onigiri in seaweed prevents sticky fingers, a real plus for a meal on the go!
There are many Onigiri specialty shops in Japan and if you go to any konbini (convenience store like Lawson’s, or 7-11), you will find a wide assortment to choose from. But, they are so easy to make, do try making it at home. They are quick to make as long as you have some cooked rice, and you can let your imagination for fillings run wild! Here are just a few popular combos to try.
The best accompaniment to onigiri to my mind if time permits is pickled vegetables (tsukemono) and a bowl of miso soup if you want a bigger meal. Onigiri can also be served instead of a bowl of white rice at any informal meal.
My dear friend, Naomi in Tokyo, put it this way: “Onigiri is soul food for Japanese people. It conveys Mother’s Love.”
What’s your favorite onigiri? It’s hard for me to pick just one…..But, I do make grilled Okaka (dried bonito flakes, toasted white sesame seeds, and soy sauce) a lot at home. The real issue is stopping eating them as they are so delicious! Consume your onigiri the day you make it and don’t refrigerate. That would make the rice hard and very untasty!
Onigiri (Rice Balls)
- 3 cups cooked & warm Japanese short-grain rice
- Dried nori (seaweed) sheets as needed, lightly toasted, optional
Fillings: Choose one or do a variety: This recipe makes 8-10 rice balls.
- 2 to 3 small packets of dried bonito flakes, 3 to 4 tablespoons toasted white sesame seeds, and soy sauce to taste
- Umeboshi (pickled plums), pitted
- Salted grilled salmon, deboned & flaked, homemade or store bought
- If making the first filling called Okaka: Combine the warm rice and seasonings in a bowl. Mix lightly to blend, and adjust seasonings as desired. Moisten your hands with lightly salted water, or use an onigiri mold (usually made of plastic), also dipped into water, and shape into triangles. Press the rice into shape, but don’t mash or squash the onigiri. You can also use plastic wrap to shape the onigiri and to transport in the wrap until ready to eat.
- If making any of the other fillings: Make a small hole in the center of the onigiri, and tuck in a little of one of the fillings (about 1-2 teaspoons). Continue shaping onigiri to cover the fillings. If desired, wrap the onigiri in the toasted seaweed, or cut the seaweed into the same shape as the onigiri, and place on top.