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Onigiri (Japanese Rice Balls)


60 min

Onigiri (Japanese Rice Balls)

Onigiri (Japanese Rice Balls) Photo 1


Other side dish


60 min


4 persons




4.00 rating-star (55)


Author: Victoria Bailey
This easy onigiri recipe is also fun to make! These rice balls are a staple of Japanese lunchboxes (bento). You can put almost anything in these rice balls; try substituting grilled salmon, pickled plums, beef, pork, turkey, or tuna with mayonnaise.


  • uncooked short-grain white rice: 4 cups
  • water, divided: 5.5 cups
  • salt: 0.25 tsp
  • bonito shavings (dry fish flakes): 0.25 cup
  • nori (dry seaweed), cut into 1/2-inch strips: 2 sheets
  • sesame seeds: 2 Tbsp

Metric Conversion

Stages of cooking

  1. Wash rice in a mesh strainer until water runs clear. Combine washed rice and 4 1/2 cups water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to low; cover, and simmer rice until water is absorbed, 15 to 20 minutes. Let rice rest for 15 minutes to continue to steam and become tender. Allow cooked rice to cool.
    Onigiri (Japanese Rice Balls) Photo 2
  2. Combine remaining 1 cup water with salt in a small bowl; use to dampen hands before handling rice. Divide cooked rice into 8 equal portions. Use one portion of rice for each onigiri.
    Onigiri (Japanese Rice Balls) Photo 3
  3. Divide one portion of rice in two. Create a dimple in rice and fill with a heaping teaspoon of bonito flakes. Cover with remaining portion of rice and press lightly to enclose filling inside rice ball. Gently press rice to shape into a triangle; wrap with a strip of nori and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Repeat with remaining portions of rice.
    Onigiri (Japanese Rice Balls) Photo 4

History of the Onigiri (Japanese Rice Balls)

Onigiri, or Japanese rice balls, have been a staple of Japanese cuisine since the 11th century. Early versions of onigiri were made with roasted rice and seasoned with salt or soy sauce. As time passed, onigiri evolved and became a popular lunchbox item. Today, the possibilities for fillings and toppings are endless, making onigiri a versatile and beloved dish in Japan and around the world.

Tips and Tricks for Onigiri (Japanese Rice Balls) Recipe

  1. Use short-grain white rice for the best results. It will stick together better and have a nice, chewy texture.
  2. Make sure to rinse the rice thoroughly before cooking to remove any excess starch.
  3. Be patient when cooking the rice. Simmering it slowly and letting it rest will result in perfectly cooked rice that's easy to mold into balls.
  4. Use a small bowl of salted water to dampen your hands before handling the rice. This will prevent the rice from sticking to your hands and make it easier to shape into balls.
  5. Get creative with your fillings! Try adding grilled salmon, pickled plums, beef, pork, turkey, or tuna with mayonnaise.

Tips for presenting the dish

Onigiri are often enjoyed as a snack or lunch item and can be presented in a variety of ways. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Pack them in a bento box for a traditional Japanese lunch.
  2. Serve them on a plate with a side of soy sauce or wasabi for dipping.
  3. Arrange them on a platter with other Japanese-inspired dishes like sushi rolls and edamame for a fun and colorful appetizer.
  4. Wrap them individually in plastic wrap for an easy grab-and-go snack.

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