Tasty Japanese Rice Balls Recipe (Yaki Onigiri): Crispy, Soft & Sticky by Ann Marie Patitucci

Tasty Japanese Rice Balls Recipe (Yaki Onigiri): Crispy, Soft & Sticky

Yaki onigiri is one of the most popular foods in Japan. You can find them just about everywhere: convenient stores, food carts, department stores, pop-up shops and izakayas. An izakaya is a type of casual Japanese bar that serves alcoholic drinks and snacks. Typically izakaya food is more substantial than tapas and is meant to be shared.

Yaki (grilled) onigiri (rice balls) are one such example, a favorite at izakaya restaurants. These Japanese rice balls are brushed with soy sauce and grilled. They have a crispy crust on the outside with soft, sticky rice on the inside. Onigiri can be made with or without fillings, but are often prepared with plain white rice and then formed into oval or triangular (my preference) shapes.

Onigiri is grilled, either on the stovetop or over a charcoal grill. If you prefer to make them on the stovetop, a cast iron pan will help to achieve the desired crispiness. If you live near a Japanese market, you can probably find frozen, pre-made Yaki onigiri. While that’s a convenient option, Yaki onigiri is so easy to make from home that I suggest trying it. In this case, homemade is best!

Serve as a light lunch, as a side dish with dinner or as an appetizer. Yaki onigiri are freezer friendly, portable and great for school or work lunches, too.

Cuisine: Japanese
Prep Time: 15 minutes 
Cook Time: 15 minutes 
Total Time: 30 minutes 
Servings: Makes 6


  • 2 cups uncooked Japanese short-grain rice
  • 1 3/4 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt or 1/2 tablespoon table salt
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil or canola oil (a neutral-flavored oil)
  • soy sauce

Here’s how to make it:

  1. Cook the rice with a rice cooker, a pot on the stove or an Instant Pot™. Let the cooked rice cool a little until you can hold it without burning your hands, but do not let it cool down completely.
  2. To make the ongiri, wet both of your hands with water so the rice won’t stick. Next, put some salt in your hands and rub your hands together to spread all around.
  3. Scoop about a 1/2 cup of rice into the palm of your non-dominant hand. Then cover the rice with your other hand (your dominant hand) and gently form the rice into a triangle shape; your hands should be just firm enough to ensure the onigiri doesn't fall apart. Squeeze the onigiri firmly with both hands, with one hand pressing onigiri to maintain a nice triangular form. Gently squeeze the center of the triangle on both sides so there is a slight indentation for grilling.
  4. To grill rice balls on the stove top, lightly oil a cast-iron skillet and heat it over medium heat. Grill onigiri until all sides are crispy and lightly browned. Avoid turning over frequently, which may cause the ongiri to break into pieces. Once they’re toasted and lightly brown, lower heat to medium-low. Brush all sides with soy sauce, rotating so that all sides get crispy. After brushing with soy sauce be careful not to burn the onigiri.

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