Mandy Makes Rice Balls!

September, 2003

Rice Balls! Japanese name: Onigiri. Those amazing anime snacks, often mislabeled as "donuts", "popcorn balls" and other American foods, these are actually a Japanese snack that are as ubiquitous in Japan as granola bars in America. Mothers pack onigiri in their children's bento boxes (lunch boxes). Onigiri are available everywhere, even in Seven-Eleven-type convenience stores.

According to legend, onigiri were originally developed as food for soldiers several centuries ago, because they are easily portable, and the saltiness helps replenish the body's salt lost from sweating.

After doing a bit of research on these anime edibles, I decided to make a batch and see if they really were all that tasty. So I headed off to a small Asian grocery store and stumbled through the aisles of unfamiliar foods (most of which I'd never heard of, with the exception of Pocky). According to the two recipies I found, the main ingredient is Japanese short-grain rice or 'sushi rice'. You know, the "sticky" kind of rice found in Japanese/Chinese restaurants. I also needed sheets of nori, or dried seaweed. For fillings, I needed pickled plums. This wasn't sounding so tasty after all.

Combining my two recipies found on the internet, I mixed up a big batch of Japanese rice... actually, I made way too much. This was before I began working, so I was working on these during the day, around noon. The rest of the country was probably making PB&J's, and I'm making rice balls.

Little did I realize how difficult it would be to actually shape these stupid things. I'd seen "onigiri molds" online, and now I saw why these would be so helpful. The rice, although sticky, just kept falling apart. Instead of the rice holding a shape, it all stuck to my hands. So I'm trying to shape these things just like Brock does, and I just find myself coated with a layer of warm rice. One recipe suggested covering the hands with salt prior to shaping the onigiri, but that didn't help much. And it made the onigiri WAAAY too salty! After my first couple failed rice balls, I discovered that putting sandwich baggies on my hands prevented the rice from sticking to me so much, and actually let me get that anime-looking shape.

Then I dug a little hole in the side with my finger and stuck a bit of pickled plum inside (by the way, the pickled plum smelled kinda strange), covered it over with more rice, and reshaped the ball. I cut the dried seaweed sheets into strips and stuck them on the bottom of my rice balls, wrapping up the sides.

Finally I got these things to look like the anime versions. But unfortunately, they didn't taste all that good. The rice wasn't bad, but I didn't like the pickled plums inside. The seaweed was very salty. Not too bad, though, overall. I made another batch, and put some tuna salad inside, but I don't really see what the big deal is with these snacks. I guess it must be an acquired taste.


I just had to try these things, at least once, since they appear in so many animes. Don't know if I'd actively seek these things out again, but I did have fun making them! Maybe I need to find better fillings...

Some sites for recipes:,1977,FOOD_9936_1359,00.html

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