Experience the Culinary Magic of Tokyo in Your Kitchen: Mastering Onigiri at Home


Among the bustling streets of Tokyo, the humble onigiri holds its own as a culinary delight as common as the sandwich is in America. Onigiri, a delectable rice creation with a surprise filling, is a staple food item for the Japanese, as much a part of their diet as the bread-and-filler sandwiches are to the Americans.

Just as every American kitchen churns out sandwiches without any thought, most kitchens in Japan bear witness to the creation of onigiris daily. To bring the shared comfort of this homemade triangular delight to kitchens around the world, an insightful Tokyo-based correspondent from The Associated Press, kindly shares her basic onigiri recipe.

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Her recipe features umeboshi, a kind of salted Japanese plum. However, the beauty of this versatile dish is its power to embrace any ingredient that accompanies the rice – as long as it fits within the traditional triangle and tantalizes the taste buds, it’s a welcome resident in an onigiri. Be it fish, meat, veggies, or even a chunk of cheese, and adventurous experimentations with the stuffing are encouraged.

The shaping of the onigiri warrants creative input too. While the standard form pays homage to the iconic triangle, one could mold it into any form that engages their fancy. With the nori, a variety of dried seaweed, acting as the wrapping paper, there’s ample room to play with the presentation. A large strip of nori or a smattering of bite-sized pieces lend themselves as the distinctive onigiri wrapping.

Similarly, the garnishing is immensely flexible. One could sprinkle sesame seeds or break out the oboro kombu, a type of shaved kelp that is a particular favorite in the land of the rising sun. Or, one could just choose to enjoy it plain.

Here is the correspondent’s step-by-step guide to creating an effortless onigiri. The recipe serves up five ample rice balls, enough for five individuals or a single voracious eater.

The ingredients are simple: you’ll need ¼ teaspoon of salt, ½ cup of water, 1 ½ cup of Japanese rice, preferably cooked to airy perfection, three umeboshi salted Japanese plums (if the plums are on the smaller side, allot one for each rice ball), and two sheets of dried nori seaweed.

To begin, dissolve the salt in the bowl of water. Wet your hands with this saline solution, grabbing a handful of still-hot, cooked rice. With the rice nestled comfortably in your palm, lay a umeboshi on top. Scoop up another mass of rice with your free hand, placing it atop the other rice-slathered hand, sandwiching the umeboshi in between the piles of rice. Now, gently cradle your hands together, pressing softly.

A few rotations in your hands later, the mixed concoction should evolve into the distantly familiar triangular form. Wrap this masterpiece with an embracing touch of nori. And there you have it: a delightful onigiri – a homely taste of Tokyo ready for savoring, thanks to the generosity of AP’s Tokyo correspondent.