A long time ago I met a warrior. I had pink pink hair then, and I was very short. I looked like this gorgeous little creature above. Well I did warn you all I was a tad geeky, so don’t pretend it’s a shock.

We explored the land together, battled foes, cast spells, shared food and potions. We moved to a different place together and continued our adventures through worlds and dungeons. This Onigiri is for one of my long time internet friends, Bryan. I’ve never seen him, I have no idea what he looks like, but one thing I do know is that he’s been a steadfast friend. Since I first met him seven years have passed, I’m no longer a gnome and I still keep in contact with him. The internet is our coffee shop, our time to sit and talk and share stories and woes.

The internet really is a marvel, we get to know people that we’ve never clapped eyes on. We tell them about our day and find kindred spirits. Sometimes we get duped and sometimes we find a real friend. Onigiri was his request, apparently rice is his favourite food - personally I think I would prefer something like large hunks of cake.

I do love onigiri though and it gave me an excellent reason to perfect my Japanese rice cooking skills. I have no rice cooker so my rice was just done on the stove top. Don’t let the lack of a rice cooker stop you making these. It might just take a little practice to get the rice right.

I’ve had a lot of fun reading about onigiri. They were food for travelling and very simple, literally a lump of rice sprinkled with a little salt and wrapped up in a bamboo leaf. Umeboshi (pickled plum) is a traditional filling, but any filling that is salty will do the job nicely. Samurai used to toss these in their bags and take them with them.

In Japan you can find all manner of fillings available, many traditional and some very westernised. There are whole stores and restaurants dedicated to onigiri. Some are crafted by hand, others made with machines and then vacuum packed. Some NZ sushi stands have a habit of rolling them in mayonnaise and loading the filling up with it too. Now I like mayonnaise as much as the next person, but not smeared on my onigiri!

They make a nice change from a sandwich for lunch and can be made and wrapped airtight in the fridge overnight. Wrapping them in plastic wrap or foil will do the trick nicely, as long as you make sure they are tightly wrapped so the rice does not dry out.

Do keep them refrigerated until you are going to eat them if possible. Don’t put the nori around them though until just before you are ready to eat them or it will go soggy and yuck.

Traditionally they are ball shaped, it was not until relatively recently they appeared in a triangular shape with the advent of the machine made onigiri.

Before I start I just want to make sure you all know I am not an authority on Japanese food; I just muddle my way through, read and do what works for me. Purists will know that plastic wrap is definitely not a part of a traditional method. But hey it works, so why not? It’s a nice easy way to start for those of you making onigiri for the first time. If you would like to make these in a more traditional way, just make sure your hands are wet when you are shaping the rice, it will stop it from sticking.

Onigiri - Japanese Rice Ball

this makes enough for roughly 6-8 Onigiri

  • 2 cups of uncooked sushi rice (do not use anything other than sushi rice for this)
  • 3 cups of water
  • nori (toasted seaweed)
  • filling of your choice
  • sesame seeds
  • salt

you may also need

  • plastic wrap
  • a small bowl
  • scissors
  • Onigiri moulds (if you wish)

Rinse your rice under cold running water to wash off a little of the starch

Place your two cups of rinsed sushi rice in a saucepan with 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil, immediately turn down to a simmer - place the lid on and simmer for 12 minutes. I put mine on very low heat so that the liquid in the rice is just bubbling.

Your rice should have absorbed most of the water after 12 minutes. Leave the lid on, remove from the heat and let sit for 10 minutes. Do check that the rice you buy has some instructions on the back similar to this as there are several varieties of sticky rice. If in doubt follow the directions on the back of the package.

Your result should be a saucepan full of lovely sticky rice without any residual liquid. Do not add anything to the rice at all, just give it a slight stir to cool it enough to be able to handle it. You should shape your onigiri while the rice is still warm.

While your rice is cooking, prepare your filling. Cut your nori with the scissors into the shape/size that you want and toast your sesame seeds. You can place a teaspoon of sesame oil in a small pan and add two tablespoons of sesame seeds once the oil is hot. Move the seeds around and watch them carefully, they will burn quickly. Take off the heat and remove from the pan when the seeds are golden. You can dry toast these without the oil if you wish.

The filling that I used for these was very simple, but is quite tasty.

One can of tuna chunks in spring water drained well. Plus one good tablespoon of sweet soy sauce. Stir together gently. Your filling combinations are endless really but should be salty. Have a look at
Just Hungry for more suggestions.

This is a very easy way to shape these if you have never done it before.

Place a layer of plastic wrap in a small bowl. Give it a light sprinkle with salt.

Fill it with roughly half a cup of rice. Press a teaspoon down in the centre to make a hollow. It should look something like a bird nest.

Place your filling in the hollow and place just enough rice to cover the top of the filling.

Slowly fold over your plastic wrap to bring the rice on the sides over the top, sealing the filling completely inside the rice.

Now screw the top of the plastic wrap around and squeeze it tight, to bring the rice together. Now you can shape your rice into what ever shape you fancy inside the plastic wrap.

If you wish to do it without the plastic wrap, simply wet your hands and sprinkle a little salt on your palms. Scoop up a handful of rice and make the nest shape in one palm, place the filling and then curl the rice on the edges over the top to enclose the filling. Shape as you will.

Sprinkle with sesame seeds, leave it plain or wrap with nori. There are so many things that you can do with onigiri, it’s really something you can make as elegant or as fanciful as you please.

Onigiri does not always have to be stylish and serious. Check out the one that Isaac is taking in his lunch today, now wouldn’t you want to eat that?

You would like to know more about onigiri? There is an Onigiri FAQ here that you can check out.