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Easy Onigiri Recipe: Delicious Japanese Rice Balls

Onigiri, Japanese rice triangles or Japanese rice balls with savory fillings, are great to eat on the go. This onigiri recipe provides an easy step-by-step guide for how to make onigiri rice balls at home.

low angle shot of onigiri japanese rice triangle. One triangle is whole wrapped in seaweed. The other is cut in half so that you can see the inside. They are on a white plate on a bamboo mat.

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Learn How to Make Onigiri at Home

The Japanese have been making filled rice snacks since before chopsticks were invented. Called onigiri, these Japanese rice balls are an easy way to eat without utensils.

But they’re great for another reason, too: The rice preserves the savory fillings inside. And they make a great brown bag lunch.

At Japanese convenience stores or grocery stores, you’ll often find actual balls of rice or rice molded into a round shape, a cylinder shape, or cute shapes like kitties and bunny rabbits. The triangle shape is the most common. No matter how you shape them, these compact wonders hide delicious surprises inside.

step by step photos of making onigir

These onigiri are adorable, delicious self-contained meals. Less boring than a sandwich, they’re the ideal snack to take to work, to school, or to the park. Sneak them into the movies or bring them along for a long plane, train, or bus ride.

What ingredients do you need for this onigiri recipe?

You can make this onigiri recipe with just a few ingredients or you can make a large batch with a variety of fillings. It’s totally up to you. Here are the basic ingredients:

  • Japanese short-grain rice. White rice is the best rice to use. Brown rice can be tricky since it is not as sticky as white rice. Glutinous or sticky rice, on the other hand, is too sticky.
  • Water
  • Salt
  • Roasted seaweed (nori) or onigiri wrappers
  • Filling or fillings of your choice
  • Sesame seeds, fish roe, or scallions for optional garnishes

How do you make It?

This onigiri recipe is easier to prepare than it looks. The only time-consuming part is cooking the rice and letting it cool enough so that you can shape it with your hands.

  1. Cook the rice.
  2. Let the rice cool until it is cool enough to handle.
  3. Use a mold (you can use a triangular shape, cylinder shapes, or other fun shapes) or your hands to form the cooked rice into the traditional triangle shape or rice ball, putting some of the filling in the center.
  4. When ready to serve or eat the onigiri, wrap them in the nori seaweed sheet and enjoy them at room temperature.

What Kind of Rice Should You Use to make onigiri?

Use short- or medium-grain Japanese-style rice (japonica), which is the same type of rice used to make sushi. Other types of rice may not be starchy enough to stick together in a ball.

How to Season the Rice

Onigiri is usually made with rice seasoned only with salt. I like to make it with sushi rice, which is seasoned with salt, sugar, and rice vinegar. Yum. But according to onigiri experts, this is totally wrong and I would never suggest that anyone else should do it this way. LOL.

Whether you use plain or sushi rice, start with short or medium grain Japanese (japonica) rice and rinse it well before cooking.

How to Shape Onigiri

Shaping the onigiri may seem intimidating, but don’t fret. It’s easier than it looks. You can buy an inexpensive, easy-to-use onigiri mold. They come in fun shapes from basic triangles to flowers or assorted animals

vertical low angle shot of a japanese rice triangle that has been partially eaten. it is being held by a man's fingers.

Tips for Success with this Onigiri Recipe

1. Use the right type of rice

Use short- or medium-grain Japanese-style (japonica) rice, the type that is used to make rice for sushi. This rice has the right amount of starch to hold together in a ball.

2. Use rice that is still warm

Cook the rice and let it cool until it is cool enough to handle. Shape and fill the rice balls. Let them cool to room temperature before wrapping in seaweed (this will keep the seaweed from immediately getting soggy.)

3. Use wet hands to shape the rice balls

Wet your hands with water to keep the rice from sticking to your hands. This will make it easier to make attractive rice balls. Keep a bowl of water on your countertop and dip your hands in as necessary to keep the rice from sticking.

4. Wrap your seaweed separately or use individually-wrapped seaweed sheets

If you plan to take it to go, wrap the seaweed separately or use individually-wrapped nori sheets. This will keep the seaweed fresh and crisp until you are ready to eat your onigiri.

What do you put inside onigiri?

From cooked salmon onigiri to onigiri filled with marinated seaweed,  tempura shrimp, or even American-style tuna salad, they’re all delicious. Fill your onigiri with just about anything you like.

Suggested Fillings

The list of possible onigiri fillings is endless. Here are some suggested onigiri fillings, but let your imagination run wild.

  • Salted and baked or broiled salmon, mackerel, or other fish
  • Miso Glazed Salmon
  • Japanese pickles
  • Shrimp tempura
  • Sweet and Sour Tofu
  • Ika sansai (Japanese spicy squid salad)
  • Tuna salad (traditional or made with wasabi paste, Sriracha, or other ingredients)
  • Umeboshi (pickled plums)
  • Chicken Karaage
  • Teriyaki chicken
  • Chicken Satay
  • Seaweed salad
  • Bonito flakes
  • Cod roe
  • Kimchi
  • Eggs (hard-boiled with wasabi paste or scrambled with a bit of soy sauce)
  • Lox or smoked salmon and thinly sliced green onions
  • Smoked trout with wasabi paste or prepared horseradish
  • Leftover fried chicken, chopped
  • Chicken liver pate
  • Barbecued pork, diced or shredded

Can you make onigiri Rice balls ahead of time and refrigerate or freeze them?

I used to think that onigiri had to be made fresh and eaten the same day, but it’s not true! Onigiri can be refrigerated or even frozen! Here’s how:

  1. Wrap the onigiri (without the seaweed) tightly in plastic wrap.
  2. Refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months.
  3. To serve, thaw them in the refrigerator overnight.
  4. To refresh the onigiri, wrap them in a damp paper towel and microwave for 30 to 45 seconds.
  5. Wrap in seaweed and enjoy!
low angle shot of onigiri japanese rice triangle. One triangle is whole wrapped in seaweed. The other is cut in half so that you can see the inside. They are on a white plate on a bamboo mat.

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Yield: Makes 8

Onigiri AKA Japanese Rice Balls or Rice Triangles

low angle shot of onigiri japanese rice triangle. One triangle is whole wrapped in seaweed. The other is cut in half so that you can see the inside. They are on a white plate on a bamboo mat.

Traditionally, onigiri are made with plain rice, but I like to use sushi rice seasoned with rice vinegar, sugar, and salt just because, well, it’s even more delicious. Fill your onigiri with whatever fillings you desire. See my post for a list of ideas. (Onigiri are intended to be kept at room temperature for several hours, so using raw fish as a filling is not recommended (of course, if you’re planning to eat your onigiri soon after preparing them, feel free to disregard this advice). Here are just a few of my favorite fillings. Be creative and dream up your own fillings, or simply use leftovers from last night’s dinner.

Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes

Ingredients

For the rice:

  • 
2 cups short grain Japanese (japonica) rice
  • 
3 cups water

For the sushi rice seasoning (optional):

  • 1/3 cup rice vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt

For the rice balls:

  • 8 sheets roasted seaweed (nori) or onigiri wrappers* (optional)
  • 
One or more fillings (enough to fill 8 balls, which is about ½ to 3/4 cup)

Instructions

  1. Rinse the rice in cold water at least 5 times and drain well in a fine-mesh sieve. If using a rice cooker, simply add the rice and cold water to the rice cooker and cook according to the cooker’s instructions. To cook the rice in a pot on the stovetop, place the rice in a pot with a tight-fitting lid. Add the cold water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a very low simmer, cover the pot, and simmer for about 20 minutes, until all of the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender.
  2. If using the sushi rice seasoning, while the rice is cooking, combine the vinegar, sugar, and salt in a small saucepan and heat over medium heat, stirring, just until the sugar is dissolved. When the rice is finished cooking, stir the vinegar mixture into it until well combined.
  3. Transfer the rice from the rice cooker or cooking pot to a large bowl and let cool until it is cool enough to handle.
  4. Shape your onigiri while the rice is still warm. If using a mold, wet the inside of the mold and, using wet hands, fill it about halfway with rice. Make an indentation in the middle of the rice with your thumb and add your filling, about a tablespoon or so. Add more rice on top to fill the mold. Place the top half of the mold on top and press down gently. Remove the top of the mold and invert the bottom half over a plate. Press down on the button in the middle to help the onigiri slide out. Wet the inside of the mold again and repeat the process until you have used up all of your rice and filling or have made the desired number of onigiri.
  5. If shaping the onigiri by hand, use wet hands and shape into a ball, make an indentation in the middle, fill with about 1 tablespoon of filling, and close up the hole with a bit more rice. Leave it in a ball shape, or use your hands to form it into a triangular shape, if desired.
  6. If using individually-wrapped onigiri wrappers, leave the plastic wrap on them and wrap them around your rice balls. If using regular nori sheets cut into strips, wrap in plastic wrap. Onigiri can be stored at room temperature for several hours. If you wish to store them longer than that, store in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature before serving.
  7. To serve, remove the plastic wrap from the nori wrapper, if necessary, and wrap the onigiri in the nori or simply remove the plastic wrap and serve at room temperature.

Notes

*Japanese markets carry roasted seaweed onigiri wrappers. They come individually wrapped in plastic so that they stay fresh and crunchy.

Nutrition Information

Yield

8

Serving Size

1

Amount Per Serving Calories 57Total Fat 0gSaturated Fat 0gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 0gCholesterol 0mgSodium 215mgCarbohydrates 13gFiber 0gSugar 4gProtein 1g

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Last Updated: April 16, 2021
By on December 28th, 2012

About Robin Donovan


Hi, I’m Robin! I am a full-time food blogger, recipe developer, and cookbook author. I spend my days cooking, writing about, and photographing food.

I’m the author of more than 40 cookbooks, including Ramen for Beginners, 5 Ingredient Cooking for Two, Sushi at Home, The Baking Cookbook for Teens, and the bestselling Campfire Cuisine.

My food writing has also been featured in major print and online pubications including Cooking Light, Fitness, San Jose Mercury News, San Francisco Chronicle, and other popular publications.

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6 thoughts on “Easy Onigiri Recipe: Delicious Japanese Rice Balls”

  1. I like this recipe. But if I put the nori on it get soggy: so i am looking for this kind of wrapped nori that is showing in your picture. Where can I buy it in USA?

    Reply
    • Hello! Alternately, you can leave the nori off and slip it in a ziplock bag or you can buy the to taste nori sheets in pack of ten and take a pack with you. If you have bento, I find that if you cut the nori in sheets in quarters and slip them in a baggie they fit neatly under the onigiri and do not get wet. Then just unwrap the sheets and grab your onigiri when hungry! My husband prefers the dry nori sheet, and I do not mind the sheets not being crispy. Enjoy!

      Reply
      • Hi Toby, Yes, I have Amazon links for the wrappers in the recipe above (and below in a previous reply). Definitely try some different fillings! My son loves getting a surprise in his onigiri!

        Reply

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