The Onigiri, The Japanese Sandwich

Japanese Customs and Courtesies Reading The Onigiri, The Japanese Sandwich 7 minutes Next Valentine's Day in Japan

Have you ever heard of Japan's most popular sandwich?

The onigiri is a stuffed and seasoned rice dumpling wrapped in a sheet of seaweed. The onigiri is the favorite snack of the Japanese, considered their "soul food". Practical and inexpensive, it is the perfect lunchtime snack and can be found in just about any Kombini. This delicious snack may well come to dethrone the famous sushi in the hexagon. 

🍙 What is an onigiri

what is an onigiri

Its name comes from the verb "nigiru" which means "to squeeze" or "to mold by hand". In fact, to obtain this Japanese culinary preparation, the rice is kneaded in the palm of the hand before being shaped into the desired form. Most often the onigiri takes the shape of a triangle or a rounded dumpling that is then covered with a sheet of nori seaweed. 

Also called omusubi in some regions, this snack comes in many flavors, mostly salty or sour. It can be filled with umeboshi (fermented plum), fish, seaweed, vegetables, cheese or meat.

The origins of this dish are very ancient since these famous Japanese rice balls already existed in the 8th century during the Nara era. Easy to carry, they were also easily eaten with the fingers before the appearance of chopsticks. The triangular shape dates back to the Heian period (794-1185). Called Tonjiki at that time, these snacks were appreciated during picnics. Later on, onigiri were used as quick meals.

🗡 A snack once enjoyed by... the samurai!

bamboo onigiri

Credit: @egpro_ac sur Twitter

The onigiri was once the favorite food of the samurai during their battles. The rice balls were then stored in bamboo. This hearty and easy to eat snack was often prepared by their wives. While cooking, their wives would pray for their husbands safety. More than a simple rice ball, the onigiri was thus full of "powers". In Shintoism, the ancestral religion of Japan, the ingredients of this tasty dish are sacred. As a result, onigiri remains the meal of the gods.

👉 How to eat onigiri the right way?

onigiri supermarket

This Japanese snack can be eaten at any time of the day, for a snack, for a picnic or for a quick break at work. It can also be carried with you in your lunch basket.

Japanese corner stores (kombini) often offer a wide range of onigiri, ranging from the classic salted plum (umeboshi) or grilled salmon (sha-ke) to the famous tuna mayonnaise (tuna-mayo) and other flavors.

As you may know, Japanese people highly value politeness. For this reason, you better eat your onigiri with dignity by following some rules.

Generally, this sandwich comes in the form of a double-wrapped triangle. The first plastic wrapping protects the onigiri and the second one separates the seaweed sheet from the rice so that it remains crispy. In order to remove the wrapping gently, without destroying your snack, here is a simple method.. 

  1. Open your snack from the middle by pulling the strip at the top of the triangle.
  2. Remove the wrapper from one side and then from the other.
  3. Gently take your Japanese sandwich at both ends to eat it.

With each bite, it is advisable to keep your onigiri in front of your mouth horizontally so as not to show the nibbled part. Also, hold your snack at the level of the seaweed to avoid dirtying your fingers. You can remove the grains of rice stuck on your hands with a napkin as you go along, to keep them clean. Lastly, if your onigiri is in a bento box, you will need to use your chopsticks to enjoy it.

😍 Onigiri, the Japanese sandwich to adopt right now!

onigiri preparation

In addition to its delicious taste, onigiri is quite balanced and can fit any diet. This small rice ball is very easy to make at home and has everything to seduce you.

🌾 The nutritional benefits of this rice ball

Compared to other hearty sandwiches, burgers or snacks, the onigiri is relatively light since it is low in fat. Rich in minerals, vitamins and trace elements, rice is a food of choice for health except for its glycemic index. It satiates efficiently and provides energy. The nori seaweed is also well known for its health benefits and low calories. By choosing a fish or meat onigiri, rich in proteins, you will get a balanced meal.

onigiri mold

How to prepare an onigiri? Easy recipe! 

1. 🍚 Wash the rice

    First, you need to rinse the sushi rice (or other types of white rice with round grains) in a bowl or pan several times, until the water runs clear. Drain your rice on the strainer and leave it for a few minutes.

    2. 🍜 Cook the rice

      You can cook the rice grains in a rice-cooker to achieve a restaurant-like performance. Otherwise, a simple saucepan will do. For two glasses of rice, add 2.5 glasses of water (1.25 times the volume of rice). Bring to a boil, then simmer for ten minutes. Then remove the rice from the heat and leave it to rest for ten minutes with a cover.

      3. 🍳  Prepare the filling

        During this time, you can prepare your filling. For a fish or meat onigiri, this is the time to cook the ingredients in a pan. You can also prepare raw or cooked vegetables by dicing or chopping them. Grilled salmon, tuna with mayonnaise, avocado, leftovers from the fridge or even Japanese specialties such as dried bonito, umeboshi or miso... be creative! Don't hesitate to buy your ingredients in Japanese grocery stores.

        4. 👐 Shape the dumplings

        Sprinkle the rice with the sushi vinegar or seasoning of your choice, then dip your hands in water and rub them with salt. Spread some rice on your palm and make a depression in the center to put some filling in the middle. Then cover with rice and press it into a ball and then into a triangle with your other hand. If you don't like to cook with your hands, you can also use our onigiri mold to get a perfect rice triangle in no time. Once you've formed your pretty onigiri, all that's left to do is decorate with a sheet of nori seaweed. Cut the nori leaves lengthwise and wrap them around your preparation.

        Here is a video of the different steps to help you prepare some delicious onigiri:


        The onigiri is a very popular Japanese snack that is starting to make its way into the Western world. After sushi, this little white rice triangle is the must-have food trend that comes straight from the Land of the Rising Sun. Easy to make and to take away, it can be declined endlessly to satisfy all taste buds!

        So, what are your favorite flavors?

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