Monday, September 29, 2014

Japanese Onigiri Rice Balls...

How do I begin talking about this beloved delightful snack that's everywhere in Japan- it's like the equivalent of our hamburger! Rice balls or "musubi", literally means "grip" such as holdable rice. We call it triangle rice in my household and my kids love them! In Japan, you can get onigiri filled with anything from grilled salmon, to natto (fermented soy beans) to premium ingredients such as uni (sea urchin) or snow crab... my favourite ones are simply filled with umeboshi (a salted plum preserve). We can get a small variety of onigiri in Toronto mostly in Korean stores, usually filled with tuna mayo, grilled beef or kimchi and they are a welcomed snack any time of day- at least my day. It is very simple to make at home and the best part is that you can fill it with whatever your heart desires.

Onigiri galore in convenient stores and food department stores in Tokyo, Japan. 

Start by preparing the rice. To yield about 10 hearty onigiri, I cook 2-1/2 cups of Korean or Japanese rice (measured with a rice measuring cup) in a rice cooker with 1/4 cup less water than I normally cook it in (you will need to add a vinegar dressing to flavour the rice and you don't want it mushy).

In the meanwhile, prepare your filling variations. I made four types today: 1) chopped ume (plum) pickles; 2) shredded imitation crab mixed with equal parts regular mayo and Japanese mayo; 3) canned tuna, drained and flaked mixed with equal parts regular mayo and Japanese mayo (optional: add a bit of wasabi) and 4) cooked ground beef mixed with chopped kimchi, toasted sesame seeds and a little soy sauce to flavour.

Heat 3 Tbsp. rice vinegar, 1-1/2 Tbsp. sugar and 1/2 tsp. salt in a small pot to dissolve. After the rice finishes cooking, keep the cooker covered and let stand for 10 minutes until the grains are settled. Transfer the rice in a wide bowl (wooden is preferred to eliminate excess moisture from the cooked rice and keeps the grains firm). Use only sideways cutting motion when mixing the vinegar dressing with the rice with a flat spoon and a fan to cool the rice.

Cut strips from nori seaweed sheets to make maki rolls by following the line creases.

Set a bowl with water and a little salt. Moisten your hands thoroughly with the salty water and place a handful of boiled rice onto your palm. Make an indentation at the centre of the rice and tuck in whichever filling you prefer. (Caution not to overfill)

Encircle the rice up with your hand to encase the filling. Use your other hand to help fold the rice over and press so the filling is hidden. (Hard to show this when I have to take a photo too- I should hire an assistant!)

Roll the rice counter clockwise in both hands while maintaining the "L- shape" angle of the right palm to make it into a triangle. TIP: Press too lightly, the rice won't hold and will crumble; press too tightly the rice will turn mushy and the ball will be too hard.

Create different shapes to differentiate the fillings. You can create cylinders, ovals and circles.

Wrap the rice shapes with a nori seaweed strip. Pay attention to the side of the nori sheet- the coarse side should be on the inside with the glossy side out for presentation.


You can also make onigiri by incorporating a variety of colourful and healthy ingredients with the rice and shaping it that way. Place them in coloured muffin holders for a cute presentation and for portability. This was a recipe I developed for a kid's article in Asian Gourmet Magazine years ago.

Healthy Meals for Kids in Asian Gourmet Magazine Winter 2008 issue 

I picked up 15 sheets for $4.99 at Galleria Korean Supermarket.

You can also buy nori sheet wraps covered in plastic that are designed to keep the nori from touching the rice until you are ready to eat which makes it super convenient to pack and take on the go!
Really easy to use and wrap... I remember the first time I saw this packaging in Japan, I was truly amazed at how smart but simple the concept was. 

Fold in the plastic corners neatly to encase the rice. 

Fold over the flaps and seal with a sticker label provided- you can also use plain sticker labes to mark the filling type.

Numbers 1, 2, 3 instructs you how to dismantle the plastic when you are ready to eat. Pull centre strip down and remove the sides one at a time to reveal the rice. How cool is that?

Tuna mayo onigiri for my oldest and crab mayo onigiri for my youngest! Hey, where's Sebas?


  1. We should buy those plastic nori sheets wrap when we go to Toronto, I love those Japanese onigri soo much. Crab and mayo flavour ! Yum yum ! It is amazing how the instructions and pictures are simple and clear; so neat-handed! I should try this recipe for sure !

  2. Thank you Kathia. I love how portable they are.. you can bring them anywhere for a quick lunch or snack!