What is Onigiri?

What is Onigiri?

Onigiri (おにぎり) is a Japanese rice ball with stuffing. It is one of Japan's most popular comfort foods, and it's easy to take on the go because it requires no utensils. If you watch anime, then you've probably seen characters pulling out Onigiri from their bento boxes. It's usually shaped into a triangle or sphere and wrapped in nori seaweed to give it that statement look. However, people get really inventive with Onigiri and mold it into the cutest shapes.


Cat-shaped Onigiri


Onigiri is the sandwich of Japan but when it is much healthier. It is that snack that can be made with your mother to build a stronger connection or shared with friends to comfort them. Nowadays, it is found in convenience stores but it has a strong history as the very first traveling food for samurais, farmers or traders.

You probably clicked on this article to get an answer to the question "what is Onigiri" but we have a lot more in store for you. Keep reading to learn how to prepare Onigiri from your home with everyday ingredients.


How to Make Onigiri


Onigiri are a very simple dish consisting mainly of rice, and 1 to 2 toppings most of the time. It's simple, but still requires a bit of preparation, and most importantly, it will require quality ingredients for the best taste. So, before we dive into preparing Onigiri, let's take a look at the ingredients needed.


Onigiri Ingredients


Japanese short grain rice - this rice is not only soft and chewy, it is also sticky and can be easily molded. Most cooking in Japan involves the use of this rice, you cannot substitute it for another type of rice or your Onigiri will fall apart.

Nori - this is the seaweed used to wrap sushi and Onigiri. It is available in Asian stores.

Salt - it is used to bring out the taste of the rice while molding.


Onigiri Fillings


This is the last ingredient needed to make Onigiri, and it is the easiest to get because you can use anything as a filling.

Some popular fillings in Japan include umeboshi (pickled plum), Okaka (bonito flakes dipped in soy sauce), Tuna mayo (tuna mixed with Japanese mayonnaise), and furikake (Japanese seasonings mix).


Japanese Umeboshi



Japanese Furikake - Rice Seasoning



Tuna Mayo

Tuna Mayo Mix


Another cool thing you can do is use leftovers in your fridge as filling for your Onigiri. Do you have some chicken, beef or bacon left over? It can be your filling. Don't be scared to experiment, anything goes with rice!


How To Prepare Onigiri Step by Step


Onigiri with Umeboshi filling


Just like any other meal, first, wash your hands before you start cooking. You should already have a cooked pot of sushi rice set.

  1. Place the rice in a baking sheet for it to cool down. Don't let it get completely cold. Wait until it is warm enough to handle. 
  2. Dampen one hand with a little water to keep it moist. Sprinkle a little salt on your palm. Some people use a plastic wrap or gloves to do this instead of their hands.
  3. Place a small amount of rice onto your damp hand and slightly spread it. 
  4. Put your desired amount of filling in the center of the rice.
  5. Lightly compress the rice and shape it into a triangle, a ball or a cute animal. 
  6. Wrap the seaweed around the rice, or decorate as you like.
  7. Tip: some people don't wrap the Nori seaweed immediately because it gets moist, and they want it crunchy. If you are packing the Onigiri in a lunchbox and you want the seaweed to be crunchy, you can set it aside and wrap it around the Onigiri at the last minute 😉.


How To Make Onigiri Rice


Onigiri rice


The first thing you want to get is a good Japanese short grain rice. You can use koshihikari or other popular varieties

  1. First put the rice into a large mixing bowl and set in the sink. 
  2. Run cold water into the bowl and gently wash. Drain the water when the rice is clean enough. Do this until the water is neat. 
  3. If you have a rice cooker, you can place the rice inside it and add the recommended amount of water to let it cook. This will give you perfectly cooked rice.
  4. If not, pour the rice into a pot, combine with water and let it cook. Don't forget to cover the lid to save time. 
  5. When the rice is boiling, reduce the heat to low and simmer until the rice is tender and there is no more water.


Tips For Making The Perfect Onigiri


  • Onigiri is pretty easy to make but you can always take it a step further to ensure that you get the perfect Onigiri every time. 
  • If you're making Onigiri with different fillings, add some filling to the top of it to help you recognise which one is which. Or you can just taste all of them.
  • If molding the Onigiri is stressful, get a rice ball mold! This is used to help kids mold their Onigiri but there's no rule against adults using it. 
  • Use freshly cooked rice. Never use leftover rice if you want your Onigiri to taste heavenly. 
  • To warm up Onigiri, you can toast or grill it on each side. It gives a different cracky taste. 


How to wrap your Onigiri like at a Japanese Convenience Store



  1. Never use rice that is more than a day old, and wait until it has totally cooled before using it (so the steam won't wet the seaweed).
  2. The onigiri should be made using triangle molds.
  3. Cut the seaweed so that it is wide enough to cover the onigiri's sides.
  4. Cut a parchment piece that is at least twice as wide as the seaweed.
  5. Because it wasn't wide enough, the parchment in the movie didn't truly cover the entire inside surface of the seaweed. Avoid making the same error.
  6. The onigiri will become your newest tasty present if you label them.


Is Onigiri Sushi?


Sushi and Onigiri


One question that comes around on the internet a lot is: is Onigiri Sushi? Onigiri is not Sushi. The rice used for Onigiri is different from sushi. While Onigiri rice is plain, sushi rice is mixed with vinegar, sugar, and salt. They look similar but taste different.




What is the most popular Onigiri filling? 


Salmon is the most popular Onigiri filling, followed by Tarako and Mentaiko. 


What are the best Konbini Oginiri?


Convenience stores, or "Konbini" as they are known in Japan, are currently one of the most frequented places for foreign travelers to shop and dine in Japan. Convenience stores sell a wide range of goods, including food, beverages, cosmetics, and other necessities.

The most popular item there and a suggested Japanese dish that international visitors can readily taste is an onigiri (rice ball). Tens of different Onirigi tastes are always available in every convenience store, even those run by big retailers like 7-Eleven, Family Mart, and Lawson.

As a result, here is a list of the top 10 onigiri available in such Japanese convenience stores:

  1. Salmon by 7-Eleven
  2. Soy Sauce Tuna Mayo by Lawson
  3. Salmon and Salmon Roe by 7-Eleven
  4. Fried Rice by 7-Eleven
  5. Grilled Salmon by Lawson
  6. Spicy Pollack Roe and Mayonnaise by Family Mart
  7. Devil’s Onigiri by Lawson
  8. Natto Rolls by 7-Eleven
  9. Soft-boiled Egg by 7-Eleven
  10. Pickled Plum


How to open an Onigiri wrapping?


Although it is simple for Japanese, you could find it difficult to open a package containing rice balls that are available at convenience stores. Today, we'll show you how to eat Japanese rice balls the Japanese way by showing you how to open them. Here are some guidelines for the most common packing types used for rice balls sold on the market.

The typical rice ball found in Japanese convenience stores is one shaped like a triangle. Given that it delivers the crispy texture of the roasted laver, it is one of the most well-liked varieties of Japanese rice balls. At first, you might find it challenging to open these rice ball packaging. With the help of this method, you'll be able to open these kinds of rice balls in just a few seconds.


Pull down a little slip with the number “1”


Onigiri Peeling Step 1

Peel the slip all the way around the rice ball


Onigiri Peeling Step 2


Pull out the part “2” to the side


Onigiri Peeling Step 3


Pull out the part “3” to the other side


Onigiri Peeling Step 4


Unfortunately, we cannot ship Onigiri overseas as it's fresh produce. However, we regularly featured onigiri-shaped crackers such as Senbei, that are also rice-based and taste delicious!


This article was originally written by our freelance writer Umm-Kulthum Abdulkareem, and edited by us.