Onigiri: Use Leftover Rice For This Easy Japanese Snack

For over 2,000 years, Japan has known how to make the best use of its rice. Whether it's pairing it with the freshest seafood as sushi, as a base for a hearty meal bowl like a donburi, or as a quick snack on the go, rice is an integral part of their everyday diet. Onigiri is one of the best examples of this creativity and the flavoured rice balls come in every shape, size colour and combination that you could ever imagine. Onigiri is a favourite for packed lunches and picnics, since they’re easy to handle and eat, packed full of nutrition and a balanced meal to fuel you through the day. 

Initially, Onigiri was tightly packed into spherical shapes but over time the styles evolved and changed into what we know today. The word onigiri itself comes from nigirimeshi. ‘Nigiru’ means ‘to squeeze’ meaning that onigiri can technically be any shape as long as the rice is squeezed. During the Heian period (794 -1185/1192) it used to be known as tonjiki and it´s possible that the English translation, rice ball comes from this tonjiki because it had a round egg shape. 

The next stage of its evolution came about during the Edo period, or more precisely, during (1688-1704). This is when processed seaweed became easily available to the public and people started using that to wrap the rice balls and make them easier to carry and eat by hand. 

One of the biggest advantages of Onigiri is that it can make good use of your leftover rice. Ideally, it would be made with sushi rice or sticky rice which is more glutinous any short grain rice with a high starch content will do. Season with furikake and sesame seeds and fill it up with sweet or savoury fillings and you have yourself a meal on the go.


  • 3 cups sushi rice cooked
  • 50 grams rice seasoning aka furikake
  • Water
  • Salt
  • Nori sheets cut into small rectangles


  • Pop your cooked sushi rice into a large mixing bowl. Add the furikake rice seasoning and mix evenly. 
  • Separate the rice into equal portions, approximately one large handful for each onigiri.
  • Wet your hands with water and rub together with a pinch or two of salt. This stops the rice sticking to your hands and helps keep it fresher for longer.
  • Pick up one handful/portion of rice. If you are hiding some fillings inside, here is where you make an indent, place the ingredients inside and fold the rice over, then lightly press it into a ball.
  • Using mainly your fingertips while resting the rice on your palm, start to press and squeeze the rice into a triangular shape, rotating as you go so it’s even. 
  • Place a slice of nori on the bottom of the onigiri, rough side in towards the rice. Then fold it up towards to the middle of the onigiri.
  • Repeat for the remaining rice portions.