Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Onigiri (Japanese Rice Balls) and Miso Soup

Onigiri is a Japanese rice ball, often formed into a triangular shape and can be found in most convenience stores in Japan with various fillings and flavours.

(My 7-11 purchases in Japan)

When I travel, eating is one of the most important experiences – taking in the food culture of a country, trying out new foods not available at home, finding the best places to eat and eating authentic food (because nothing is more authentic than eating Japanese food in Japan, getting served by Japanese people and communicating your order in broken Japanglish). Traveling is also an excuse to eat more than your average three meals a day. But eating is amongst a whole bunch of other realities of traveling – figuring out the transport system, trying to take in as many of the sights and attractions the city has to offer, shopping (aka buying tacky souvenirs), conversing with the locals, avoiding scams/being assaulted and getting your bag snatched, sleeping, respecting the local culture/customs/etiquette, meeting other travellers, adjusting to different time zones every few days as you travel between cities… When you are traveling, sometimes you only have time for a quick snack in between getting up and hopping on your next train to your next destination (umm….temple #32).

Onigiri became a daily snack for me while I was traveling around Japan. I found it amazing how the onigiri was packaged with the nori stored separately from the rice so that the nori would remain crisp. It took some practice to know how to eat one properly.

See video here -

I have found that onigiri is quite easy to make at home and fun too when you realize that the rice is kind of like play dough and the possibilities for shaping your rice are endless.


•    cooked plain hot sushi rice
•    nori (seaweed)
•    Onigiri fillings (anything can be mixed into the rice as long as it’s not too moist or oily which will make the rice grains fall apart)
-    tuna (canned) seasoned with pepper and mixed with mayonnaise
-    white and black sesame seeds
-    furikake (Japanese mixed savoury flakes)


I made two different type of onigiri. The onigiri needs made while the rice is hot so it will stick together and be easier to shape. 

Onigiri with furikake

I followed the instructions on the back of the furikake packet to make onigiri. I can't read Japanese but the pictures were pretty self explanatory. 

Transfer hot sushi rice into a bowl and add in some furikake. I didn’t know how much furikake to put in so I just added in a little at a time and mixed it all together, and tasted until I thought that the flavours were right. Make sure that you taste as you go and don’t add in too much in the one go as the furikake can make the onigiri quite salty. 

An easy way to shape onigiri which I learnt from the food blog Just Hungry is to use a small bowl/tea cup and plastic wrap.

Line the bowl with a piece of plastic wrap that’s big enough to hang well over the sides. Press the plastic wrap into the bowl.

Add some furikake rice mix into the bowl (the amount added depends on how big you want the balls to be). Gather up the ends of the plastic wrap and twist and squeeze, pushing out any excess air. Twist tightly to form a ball shape, pressing the rice grains to make them stick together.  

Untwist the plastic wrap and your onigiri is done! You can continue to reuse the plastic wrap for the rest of the rice.

Triangle shaped onigiri filled with tuna

Line the bowl with a piece of plastic wrap that’s big enough to hang well over the sides. Press the plastic wrap into the bowl.

Sprinkle the inside of the bowl with a little water and shake out the excess into the sink. Sprinkle the inside of the wetted, plastic lined bowl with a little salt and shake out any excess salt.

Fill the bowl with hot sushi rice. Poke a hole in the middle of the rice, about halfway down in depth. Add in some tuna and lightly press the rice over the filling. 

Gather up the ends of the plastic wrap and twist and squeeze, pushing out any excess air. 
To make the triangle shape, form a L shape with one hand and make three corners on the ball. Use the other hand to turn the ball and squeeze, turn, squeeze and turn until you get the desired triangle shape. 

Wrap the triangle onigiri with a piece of nori just as you are about to eat it so that the nori remains crisp.

When I was in Japan last year I bought a fish and car egg shaper. I have used it to shape boiled eggs with varying degrees of success, it’s quite difficult to get the egg to replicate the mould. 

I thought it would be cool to try using these moulds to make onigiri. 

This is how the fish turned out. I used some black sesame seeds for an eye and white sesame seeds for scales.

I don’t think that the car turned out as well as the fish as it was hard to get all the imprints.

To accompany the onigiri I made some miso soup.

Recipe for Miso Soup


Dashi Stock
•    3 cups water
•    10cm square piece kombu (dried kelp)
•    10-15g/3-4 T of katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes)
Miso Soup
•    2 tablespoon miso paste (mix of 1 ½ tablespoon white miso and ½ red miso or to taste)
•    ½ a block tofu, cut into 1.5cm cubes
•    5g dried wakame
•    finely chopped spring onion for garnish


Dashi Stock

Using scissors, make a few snips into the kombu to help release the flavours. Place water and kombu in a saucepan and soak for at least 30 minutes (the kombu will soften and expand).

Place the pan over medium heat and slowly bring to the boil. Just before it reaches boiling point, remove the kombu and discard. Add the katsuobushi to the pot, boil for 30 seconds. Turn the heat off and let steep for 5 minutes.

Strain dashi stock through a fine sieve. Do not squeeze out the flakes, as this will make the stock cloudy and very fishy.

Miso Soup

Soak the wakame in cold water for 10 minutes. Drain and squeeze out excess water. Cut into bite-sized pieces.

Heat dashi stock in a pan and dissolve miso in a cup of the stock and pour back into remaining stock in the pan, making sure the stock does not boil after the miso is added (if the miso boils, the flavour will be altered).

Add tofu and wakame and heat through gently.

Serve the miso soup in a bowl, garnished with finely chopped spring onions.

You can read about my Japanese travel adventures and food endeavours here (under the Other tab)


  1. Ahh! Kawaii!! Awesome job, and I love those moulds. The car rice actually kinda reminds me of a little cloud.. perhaps you could add some rice grain "rain" next time ;)

  2. Thanks Conor :) Yeah it does kind of look like a cloud or it could even pass for a house. I was using sesame seeds to outline the detail for the car but it got too hard and I was getting sesame seeds all over the place rather than in straight lines.

  3. Yum! Hahah I love the little moulded ones, very cute!

    I want to try your miso soup sometime! I am lazy and have never made it properly with the kombu etc etc.

  4. I will invite you over for a Japanese feast one night and show you how to make the miso soup from scratch, it's not hard :)