Making onigiri with a plastic bag

Onigiri (rice balls) are a staple bento ingredient, and can be made in all kinds of shapes with all kinds of fillings. As I’ve covered this past week or so, you can even get bento boxes designed specifically for carrying onigiri. Previously on Just Bento and Just Hungry, I’ve covered how to make them the traditional way by hand, and using plastic wrap and a cup.

Reader Samantha (aka Koorogi) sent in this great way to make onigiri that cleverly uses the corner of a plastic bag, to make these perfectly triangular or cone-shaped rice balls, as well as other shapes. It’s definitely a method worth adding to your repertoire. (All the photos in this entry are taken by Samantha.)


The basic tools she uses are: a plastic bag, a bowl or container containing salted water, and a rice paddle. She recommends starting the process by cooking the rice first, cooking the filling if you are using one, and getting everything together while the rice finishes cooking. (She uses Calrose brand rice: See this all-encompassing article about onigiri for what kind of rice to use that sticks well together!)

Here’s how she forms a basic unfilled onigiri, in her own words:


  1. “Take a small bowl and put some water and salt in it, stir until the salt has dissolved.”
  2. “Take a Ziplock bag and dip the inside into the salted water, then turn it back the right way (top left photo). Make sure that there’s not a pool of water inside, that it’s just sprinkled lightly.”
  3. “Take your rice from the steamer while it’s still hot (I would recommend that you get an idea of your portions by using your rice paddle to section your portions out after you’ve fluffed it, this way you don’t have to worry about measuring things in the middle of making your onigiri or running out of one of the components). “
  4. “Place the total desired amount that you’re going to use into the bag (top right photo). “
  5. “Push it all towards one of the bottom corners (bottom left photo).”
  6. ” Push all the air out and twist the top while shaping it (bottom right photo).”

Samantha says that you can form the onigiri into other shapes while it’s still in the bag - her kids like kitty shaped onigiri!

Making filled onigiri is just as easy, with a little adjustment. At step 4, put in 2/3rds of the total amount of rice for the onigiri in the bag. Then:


  1. “Press and mold using your fingers a cup out of the rice (top 2 photos above). Then fill this with your desired amount of filling (again, I would recommend that your section this out like you did with the rice). Press it gently down so that it’s level with the top of the “rice cup” (middle left photo).”
  2. “Next, take the last bit of your rice portion (should be about 1/3 of the original amount) and using your rice paddle, place it on top of the “rice cup” and pat it down with the paddle (middle right photo). If you’re having trouble getting your ingredients into the bag, just fold the outside Ziplock part down and it automatically creates a gaped opening. Using your fingers gently pinch the edges so that the “rice lid” connects with the “rice cup”.”
  3. “Continue molding it until you’re happy with the shape and sure that the “lid” and “cup” are attached (otherwise it will just fall apart and your fillings will be everywhere). Push all the air out and twist the top while shaping it (bottom left photo). Turn it over and press it gently, but firmly to the counter (or plate) to make the bottom flat (bottom right), then untwist the bag and set it onto the plate.”

Once the onigiri are formed, you can add nori seaweed, sesame seeds, more salt if needed, and so on. She says that using this method, it only takes about “20-25 seconds to prepare an individual non filled onigiri and about 35-40 seconds per filled onigiri” - and it’s only her second try!

Tilapia filling

For the tasting looking filling the onigiri shown here, Samantha used frozen tilapia that she gets in big bags from Sam’s Club (she says Albertson’s carries them as well). Here’s her recipe:

  • 1 piece of Tilapia
  • Salt (preferably freshly ground sea salt)
  • Soy Sauce
  • Sesame Seeds

“To prepare the Tilapia filling, place a single piece of frozen Tilapia (one individual pack, plastic removed) in a non stick skillet. No oil or anything should be needed. You can spray the skillet with a light spray of Pam if you would like. Once it starts turning white (instead of translucent) flip it over. Once it starts to brown, salt. I use freshly ground sea salt that you can pick up at most stores, but you can use table salt as well. Break it up gently as you continue flipping it. It should begin to start flaking. Once it’s completely broken up and starting to get crunchy, sprinkle some sesame seeds and then pour a little bit of soy sauce on it (to taste), cook it a few minutes longer until the fish is not so wet because of the soy sauce. Once your filling is done, go ahead and set it aside.”

Samantha says: “Even my husband (who can’t stand white rice) fell in love with them and is now asking me to start making him full on bentos as long as they include onigiri.”

A big thanks to Samantha for sharing her great method!

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so far i’ve only tried to make onigiri once, but they didn’t stay together very well. i want to avoid plastic wrap, what else can i do to keep them together? i used the rice while it was still hot.

Type of Rice

It depends on what time of rice you use. If you’re using regular long grain it won’t be sticky. Try jasmine rice or read Maki’s entry on different types of rice to use for onigiri.

plastic mold

Try Botan rice if it’s available. I shop at Japanese market, but I think I’ve seen this brand at regular markets too. I, too, want to avoid plastic wrap in an effort to be green. I found that the plastic onigiri mold works really well and fast, and your hands won’t get all red from handling hot rice (even if it’s in ziplock bag or whatever, it’s pretty hot for me). I dip the plastic mold in a big bowl of water each time before putting the rice in. Then press firmly. The only down side is you won’t get that unique, hand-made, uneven look.

This is great, will test it

This is great, will test it out shortly, along with the filling, which I’ve been too afraid to experiment with. Thanks!


Great tip! Those cones are super cute!

How do you make kitty shaped onigiri while it’s still in the bag?

I actually just used the bag

I actually just used the bag and made it into a ball (instead of a cone). Then I pressed it flat, making a patty of sorts. After that, at the top, I used one finger to press down a little and make an indentation and shaped the ears from that. I hope that helps!

Worked like a charm!

I was in a rush this morning and decided to give this technique a try. It worked beautifully! I stuffed the onigiri with chopped umeboshi (I don’t like having to deal with the pit) and the rice behaved exactly as promised. Thanks for the tip!

(Oh, and I get my regular rice to stick together just fine. Rinse it thoroughly, drain, then add water at a 1:1.5 ratio (For example, one cup of rice to 1.5 cup of water). Then add it to your rice cooker and proceed as usual. My rice comes out nice and sticky every time.)


I canNOT wait to try this! Thanks sooo much… :)

Thanks a lot

Thanks a lot, I’ll try this next time.

I remember reading a comment about using Egyptian rice, but I can’t remember where it was. I live in Egypt and Egyptian rice works fine if you cook it the right way. I usually put the same amount of water as rice + 1/4 or 1/2 cup extra (1 cup rice would use 1 1/4 - 1 1/2 cups water). Put it on high heat till it boils and the water is the same level as the rice, then cover and cook on low heat for 15 minutes.

The two times I’ve made onigiri so far, the rice started to get brown before the 15 minutes were up (maybe cause I’m cooking less rice than usual), but it gave more flavor to the onigiri. :)

Are there more filling suggestions? I saw your suggestions but the only filling I can get here so far is canned tuna with soy sauce. I tried hard boiled egg as a filling, it was good.


That is such a good idea…I can’t wait to try it. I’m a bento beginner and don’t have that much resources to spend on gadgets, so this will be a good tip before I can get my hands on onigiri moulds. =) Thanks so much!

spin it


tried this technique for the first time, and it worked perfectly.

To avoid getting my hands burned, I didn’t shape the rice, but instead held the plastic bag closed and spinned the rice using my wrist. Then opened add ingredient, add more rice and spinned again. For a beginner I made 10 balls in less than 10 minutes…

thanks a lot

Re: Making onigiri with a plastic bag

This method is incredibly easy! I just made my first ever batch of onigiri with pork soboro and they turned out perfect and delicious! Thanks for the helpful tip!

Re: Making onigiri with a plastic bag

I just made this for me 'n my man, and yummmmm! We both love it. And *I* love it because it is eeeeasy omg :-) I put dried bonito mixed with shoyu and mirin in mine. om nom nom nom
When I put too much mirin and soy sauce in with the bonito, the sauce kind of squeezed out along the edges during bag-wrangling time and I made brown-marbled onigiri. Cute and yum -- they still did not fall apart.

We are very full now, thanks to your recipe ! !
jazakallah khair <3

Re: Making onigiri with a plastic bag

wow! this sounds like a great technique. I made onigiri for the first time today and the rice was burning my hands. x.x

haha. hopefully, with this, i can avoid grabbing ice to cool my hands down. :)

thank you!

Turned out great!!

I just made these for lunch and they were very tasty. I loved the tilapia filling. I chose to use brown rice for mine and they turned out great!

I liked the bag didn't burn my hands as much as plastic wrap did (I used freezer zip bags because they are thicker ^_^).

Thanks for the great idea!!

Re: Making onigiri with a plastic bag

I just made two onigiri using this method. One with ume paste filling and another with seaweed filling. Eating it now. That's how quick this method is!

Re: Making onigiri with a plastic bag

I actually stumbled on this technique myself. I'm glad to see that there's some parallel thinking happening!!!

My fav filling so far:
1 can of Spam, 3 tablespoons soy or teriyaki sauce (I use "light" style) for some flavor. Sesame seeds if desired.

Mush until the consistency of ground beef using a potato masher. Very light spray canola oil in a pan to prevent sticking. Go easy on the canola, because the Spam is pretty greasy on its own. Pan fry until lightly browned. Sprinkle some light-style teriyaki sauce and and some sesame seeds. I only use about 1/2 teaspoon (or less) per ball because it's such an INCREDIBLY STRONG filling. The sweet and salt set off the rice wonderfully. If I'm not in the mood for sweet, I stick with the soy sauce. The most important lesson with this filling is to go easy on it. A little goes a LONG way. I can make 1 can's worth do about 25-30 onigiri.

Re: Making onigiri with a plastic bag

CALROSE rice has a very high glycemic index while Japanese rice has a low one, its worth finding a Japanese rice, especially if you eat a lot of it

Re: Making onigiri with a plastic bag

To me this statement makes very little sense. All white rice is refined carbohydrate and thus has a pretty high glycemic index.

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