Onigiri is considered Japanese soul food and compared to easy grab ‘n go foods like burritos and hotdogs because they share the same definition for perfect hand-held, walk-about snacks. Onigiri is a rice ball, typically wrapped in seaweed. It was invented before the existence of refrigeration as a way of preserving fresh rice with pickled fillings so it could carry along with people traveling, for soldiers on foot, and farmers working in the fields. Onigiri is still one of the most popular snacks in Japan and is enjoyed by people of all ages. In some regions of Japan, onigiri is also called omusubi, which is associated with Japanese folklore and specifically refers to the triangle formed onigiri. The rice is squeezed into a “mountain shape” as a symbol and hope to receive the power of God. History shows that travelers carried these triangle-shaped snacks with them as a way of requesting safe travels from the spirits who inhabited nature. From what I understand, only this shape is called omusubi. The word onigiri comes from nigirimeshi which translates “to squeeze.” Squeezing is the technique used to form the rice into a shape that binds it together. I was thankful to learn about this because some of the onigiri I made, were definitely NOT triangles.


Onigiri is most often eaten cold or at room temperature, however, you can serve them warm by simply toasting your shapes in a pan with sesame oil on medium heat for 5-6 minutes per side. This preparation is called yaki onigiri (the recipe can be found at this link ; https://pepperandsaltkitchen.com/2023/02/25/onigiri-japanese-rice-balls/


It takes some practice to get the same perfect little parcels a seasoned onigiri chef creates. As you can see, mine are not perfect, so I’m practicing! With so many shapes to choose from and so many fillings to consider, it’s a fun family activity or one you might consider for a party. There are also onigiri molds you can buy to make the crafting a little easier. I’ve listed one below. You can find more on Amazon and in Asian markets. 


Makes 8 -10 pieces


  • 2 C sushi rice (Japanese short grain)
  • 2-1/2 C water
  • Nori sheets, unseasoned
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 C toasted sesame seeds (black or white or both)
  • Fillings such as salmon, sesame spinach, bean paste, teriyaki chicken or pork, tofu & green onion
  • Garnishes such as mint, cilantro, chopped chives, chopped scallions, 
  • chili flakes

Dipping sauce: Place rice into a medium-sized sieve and run cold water over it, rubbing the rice between your fingers. Continue to do this until the water runs clear out of the sieve. In a medium size saucepan, add rice and cover with 2-1/2 cups of steeped Darjeeling tea. Bring to a boil, cover with lid, reduce heat to low, and simmer for approximately 10 minutes or until the tea has been completely absorbed. Cut nori sheets into one-inch or two-inch wide strips and set aside. Prepare your fillings and garnishes while the rice is cooking. 


  • Smoked salmon, green onion & tamari
  • Sesame tamari ginger marinated tofu & chives (vegan)
  • Umeboshi (recipe link below) (vegan)
  • Avocado & blister peanut (vegan)
  • Teriyaki chicken (chopped) & shichimi togarashi (Japanese 7-spice)
  • Sesame sautéed spinach, edamame & hoison (vegan)
  • Sweet potato & shallot (vegan)
  • Japanese red bean paste (Organic Anko Japanese Red Bean Paste is found in Asian stores and Amazon)


An approximate teaspoon of any filling goes in the center of each form, so you only need very small amounts of each.


When the rice is cool enough to handle and you have your assembly board set up with fillings, garnishes, and cut nori sheets, you can begin. Wet your hands with cold water and a tiny pinch of salt and with 1/3 cup (or more) of rice begin molding your shape in the palm of your hand. Squeezing the rice until it’s in a tight form. This can be a ball, cone, triangle, square, or oval. Once you have a shape, make a dip in the middle of the shape and spoon in 1/2 to 1 whole teaspoon of filling. How much filling you put in will depend on how big your shape is. Because of my skill level at this point, I found that adding just a little more rice to cover the filling was required. If you do this, squeeze your shape again to tighten the additional rice. Add nori to the shape, leaving a bit of the rice showing. You can use a tiny bit of water on the end of the nori to get the nori to “glue” together, if necessary. Sprinkle with sesame seeds. Garnish. Continue with the next shape



  • 1/4 C tamari or shoyu
  • 2 T rice vinegar
  • 1 T white sugar or agave
  • 1 tsp dark sesame oil
  • 1 tsp fresh grated ginger
  • 1 T finely chopped scallion
  • 1/2 tsp red chili flakes


Stir all ingredients in medium size bowl until well incorporated.



  • To keep onigiri fresh until serving, cover with plastic wrap.
  • For refrigeration: you can individually wrap onigiri in plastic wrap and then cover it with a kitchen towel. You can store up to two days in the refrigerator. Pull out of the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before eating to bring onigiri back up to room temp. For yaki onigiri, you can gently warm it up in a cast iron pan.
  • A good way to identify different rice ball offerings is to garnish each one with a bit of the filling
  • If you want to take a peek at the how-to’s of making onigiri, there are many videos online that show the technique OR you can get molds (see below) to help shape things a little easier
  • Onigiri Triangle Mold – You can find an onigiri rice mold on many sites. Amazon has several. One that I may be getting is Choxila Onigiri Stainless Steel Rice Ball Mold

Umeboshi Recipe: https://pepperandsaltkitchen.com/2020/09/14/umeboshi-pickled-salted-plums/





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