Bento booster / Unusual onigiri fillings add color

The Yomiuri Shimbun

The Yomiuri ShimbunThis series introduces everyday techniques to make bento lunches.

Onigiri rice balls are a staple of Japanese lunch boxes, but there are probably many people who feel bored with conventional fillings. To please the eye as well as the palate, why not try some unconventional ingredients?

It’s common to put things like umeboshi pickled plum or salmon in the center of a rice ball. The onigiri introduced below features rice mixed with several ingredients, so you can easily identify the flavor.

Satomi Sugiyama, manager of Tokyo Gas Co.’s Food communication Center, suggests making four kinds of atypical onigiri for bento lunches. “I recommend unusual fillings for onigiri to enjoy the unusual tastes,” she said.

Children might enjoy bento lunches with omuraisu (rice omelet) onigiri, as the paper-thin omelet and ketchup-flavored rice add color to the ensemble. After frying omuraisu ingredients with seasonings, mix them with rice and make rice balls. The onigiri is unlikely to harden as the rice is not fried, Sugiyama said.

Fried-cheese curry onigiri looks mouth-wateringly good, and the vivid purple color of red shiso and cheese onigiri will brighten up your bento box.

Your finished bento box will look even better if you mold rice balls into different shapes, such as circular, oval or cylindrical. In the gaps between onigiri, she recommends placing broccoli or mini tomatoes to add even more color.

Using plastic wrap to mold the rice balls is an important hygiene tip. After shaping onigiri, open the wrap to help the onigiri cool before putting them into a lunch box.

Avoid tightly molding the rice when you shape the onigiri, because it ruins the consistency.

“You just need to gently clench portions of rice three or four times to achieve the right firmness,” she added.

Ingredients and directions

(Makes 2 of each onigiri):

Rice omelet onigiri

160 grams cooked rice / 10 grams onion / 25 grams chicken thigh / 1/6 green pepper / 1 egg / 1½ tbsp ketchup

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  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    A paper-thin omelet with rice is rolled up on a sheet of plastic wrap.

1. Finely chop onion and green pepper, and cut up chicken into small pieces.

2. Heat vegetable oil in a frying pan, and make 2 paper-thin omelets.

3. Put 2 teaspoons of vegetable oil into a frying pan, and fry the chopped onion, green pepper and chicken pieces with ketchup on medium heat. Remove the ingredients from the pan and mix with rice.

4. Put an omelet on a sheet of plastic wrap, and put the rice mixed with ingredients on the omelet. Roll into a cylindrical shape and cut as desired.

Fried rice onigiri

160 grams cooked rice / 1 slice bacon / ½ green onion / 1 tbsp oyster sauce

1. Cut bacon into 1-centimeter squares, and finely chop green onion.

2. Put 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil into a frying pan, and gently fry bacon on medium heat. Add oyster sauce and continue frying gently.

3. Mix the fried bacon with rice, add green onion and mix. Mold into oval shapes.

Red shiso and cheese onigiri

160 grams cooked rice / 1 tsp red shiso leave flakes / 1 cheese slice

1. Cut cheese into 1-centimeter squares.

2. Mix the cheese and red shiso leave flakes with rice. Mold into round shapes.

Grilled cheese curry onigiri

160 grams cooked rice / 12 boiled edamame peas / ½ curry roux block / ½ cheddar cheese slice

1. Break a curry roux block with a kitchen knife. Mix the roux and edamame peas with rice. Shape into round balls using plastic wrap.

2. Remove the wrap. Cut the cheese into half and place on the onigiri. Grill them until brown.

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