A Comprehensive Guide to Japan's Convenience Store "Onigiri" Rice Balls
Convenience stores are found all over Japan, selling delicious meals, snacks, and everyday items at all hours of the night! By far one of their most beloved and best selling products is their onigiri (rice balls) which come in an astonishingly wide variety and are super cheap! You'll probably find yourself agonizing over which onigiri to get from all the many fillings and flavors to choose from, but no need to worry! We've compiled together a guide on popular onigiri to help you on your next convenience store trip in Japan!
Jun 06 2019 (Sep 09 2020)
Onigiri are rice balls which come in a variety of different flavors and are filled with a variety of different ingredients. You'll find some that are completely wrapped in seaweed, some that are only partially wrapped, and some which don't have any seaweed at all! As for fillings, since so many foods go really well with rice, anything goes. Even the rice can be seasoned differently: lightly salted, mixed with sauce, or seasoned with furikake (rice seasoning mix)!
One of the coolest things about onigiri is the ingenious packaging which keeps the seaweed crispy and fresh up until you take your first bite. However, this packaging can be a bit confusing to open for first-timers, so be sure to check out our article on how to unwrap onigiri:
Keep reading to learn about all the classic ingredients that are commonly used in onigiri, as well as more unique and creative flavors of onigiri!
Tuna mixed with mayonnaise - a popular and staple filling and topping that goes with just about anything!
Salmon is a big staple in Japanese cuisine. This is basically an easy-to-eat, handheld version of the traditional Japanese breakfast, sans the miso soup.
Mentaiko refers to "spicy cod roe" or "spicy pollack roe." Although it says "spicy," don't worry! It's easy to eat even for those who have a tough time eating spicy foods.
Umeboshi is a type of pickled plum that is often enjoyed with white rice. It's extremely sour in flavor, but that makes it an even better accompaniment to plain rice! Onigiri is usually filled with the mashed flesh of the plum, but sometimes you'll find one whole umeboshi placed right on top, seed included!
Sometimes, all you need is some salt. A little bit of salt carries you a long way! The simple seasoning allows you to fully enjoy the natural flavors of each grain of rice.
By simmering kombu (kelp) in a salty and sweet sauce, you get a super tasty seaweed side dish to go with your rice!
Ikura (salmon roe) is a popular sushi topping. You'll be able to revel in the fun, popping sensation as you bite into the fish eggs!
Ebi mayo, or "shrimp mayonnaise," is another classic mayonnaise combo that sits right up there with tuna mayo. You can't go wrong with this pairing!
If you're looking for a vegetable filling, takana (mustard leaves) are a delicious and healthy option! They're prepared in a variety of ways, but this particular one in the photo is stir-fried with chili peppers for a bit of a kick.
Do you know what those wispy seafood flakes on top of okonomiyaki (savory Japanese pancakes) are? Katsuobushi, or in English, bonito flakes! They're also commonly used in dashi, the umami-packed broth base to almost all Japanese food. When seasoned with soy sauce, it creates a side dish for rice called "okaka."
Sekihan, literally "red rice," is a traditional Japanese dish made with glutinous rice and red beans. It's often eaten with sesame seeds and a sprinkle of salt. The rice gives it a different twist in texture!
Omurice (omelette + rice), is, as its name suggests, rice with an omelette on top! The actual dish consists of a version of fried rice that is seasoned with ketchup, which is then covered on top with a fluffy omelette. In onigiri form, you'll find the ketchup rice with a little omelette on top or even wrapped around it entirely! Heat it up in the microwave to elevate its flavors even further!
Sausage and rice is an unquestionably delicious pairing, whether the slab of pork is coated in a decadent soy sauce dressing (i.e. spam musubi), paired with some egg, or even just shining on its own!
Chahan is the Japanese word for "fried rice." Yes, you can get a convenient ball of rice fried rice-style at convenience stores in Japan! You can eat this up too and enjoy your steamy ball of deliciously oily savory goodness.
Tamago Kake Gohan
Tamago kake gohan is a type of dish where you mix raw egg and soy sauce into a bowl of plain rice. This might sound strange at first, but it's super flavorful, tasty, and a classic Japanese breakfast dish! The onigiro version consists of rice lightly seasoned with soy sauce with a bit of gooey egg yolk in the middle. How do they do it?? We'll never know.
Yaki Onigiri literally translates into "grilled rice ball." It's a popular way to enjoy onigiri in which you slather both sides with miso or soy sauce and then grill it to give it a crunchy texture and mouth watering aroma. This particular one even has salmon inside!
Bibimbap is a Korean rice dish mixed with various meat and vegetables and seasoned with a spicy and sweet sauce. Inside, you'll find a little surprise - grilled meat! Adding to its tasty flavors, it also has 3.4g of fiber from all the veggies packed into it!
Akuma no Onigiri
Akuma no Onigiri means "Devil's Rice Ball," and is a product only available at Lawson convenience stores. It was named this because of its unbelievably addictive taste that could only be the work of evil magic! It went viral all across the country for its infamous flavors - tempura batter flakes fried in sesame oil.
Feeling something fried? Ebiten (shrimp tempura) onigiri has you covered! The tail sticks out from the top of the onigiri, giving it a pretty interesting look.
Those little white fishes on top of the rice ball are called shirasu (boiled whitebait)! They're lightly seasoned but add a unique flavor. Try it out if you're looking for a light bite with your rice!
Yakisoba (fried noodles) are another popular Japanese dish, but with this onigiri, you can get both noodles and rice in one, hence the name soba (noodles) and meshi (rice)!
Onigiri are a classic snack or addition to your meal, and best of all, they're easily available at convenience stores all over Japan! They come in various flavors, and convenience stores are constantly pumping out new exciting flavor combinations and products. Be sure to try some onigiri while you're traveling in Japan!
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Title Image: Bulltus_casso/ Shutterstock
The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.