Friday food treat: Onigiri


Onigiri is a rice snack available in convenience and other food stores in Japan. It goes by other names as well – o-musubi, nigirimeshi and rice ball. It is a simple but surprisingly tasty thing to eat.

Onigiri is made from white rice in the form of a triangular or cylindrical shape. They are often wrapped in nori (seaweed).

Traditional onigiri
Traditional onigiri is filled with pickled ume (Chinese plum/Japanese apricot), salted salmon, katsuobushi, kombu, tarako or a salty or sour ingredient. Some of the flavours I saw in the local convenience store hot box here, included salmon, cod roe, benito flakes and bacon, and tuna and mayonnaise.

Tuna and mayonnaise flavoured onigiri

Tuna and mayonnaise flavoured onigiri

Evolution of this food treat
Before chopsticks became popular, rice was eaten in hand-held rice balls. The rice was rolled into a ball or shaped into a rectangle. This Japanese food also be a quick meal for the samurai who carried bamboo wrapped rice for quick meals during war.  The rice snack was first flavoured with salt, before nori was used to wrap around the ball shape.

With mass production and machine processing, onigiri was made into a triangular shape and flavourings were inserted. From there a range of flavour combinations were developed.

Popular treat

Benito flakes and bacon flavoured onigiri

Benito flakes and bacon flavoured onigiri

Onigiri is a popular food because it is filling, tasty, easily purchased at one of the many convenience stores in the country and most of all – is not expensive. This is not a dish that I have been drawn to until recently. One of my team members was describing it as one of her favourite Japanese foods. She described the flavours with such relish that I felt I could not pass the opportunity to try them myself.

They are well worth a try – and the rice certainly quells your hunger. I could see myself seeking out a variety of different flavours too. I have even heard of people making onigiri with vegemite. How’s that for Asian fusion?


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