Noriben, a true Japanese classic


There are some dishes that are so basic to make that they barely ever get mentioned in cookbooks. Noriben (the word comes from nori and bento mashed together) is one of them. It’s a really basic bento, consisting of just 3 or 4 ingredients: rice, nori seaweed, soy sauce, and often dried bonito flakes. It’s tasty and inexpensive. It was standby for my mother when there was nothing else in the house except for a few pantry staples, and she had to make bento for two of the kids plus my father.

Whether or not you’d like noriben or not depends on whether you like the sea-taste of nori and soy sauce. It’s one of those things that Japanese people tend to think that only a Japanese person could really love. It makes most Japanese people feel very nostalgic.

For the sake of nutritional balance you might want to have other, not too salty things in your bento box with noriben, such as steamed vegetables, chicken, fried tofu, or a piece of grilled fish.

How to assemble a noriben

You will need:

  • hot rice (brown or white)
  • a couple of sheets of nori seaweed
  • 2 cups or so of dried bonito flakes (katsuobushi)
  • soy sauce

Sprinkle the bonito flakes with a little soy sauce and mix with a fork or chopsticks. Rip up the nori into small pieces.


Fill the bento box about halfway up with rice. Put a layer of bonito flakes on evenly on top. Sprinkle with a little more soy sauce if it looks too dry.


Put a layer o nori seaweed on top evenly. If the nori tends to fly around, press down lightly with moistened fingers.


Repeat with another layer of rice, bonito flakes, and then a final layer of nori.


For an even simpler version, omit the bonito flakes. After topping the first layer of rice with nori, sprinkle with enough soy sauce to moisten the nori but not soak the rice through. Repeat with another layer of rice and nori, and sprinkle with soy sauce again.

Unlike the usual procedure where you let the rice cool down before closing the bento box, you can close up a noriben while it’s still a bit warm. The nori will become rather moist, but that’s all good - it’s quite delicious that way.

One word of warning: be sure to check your front teeth after consuming a noriben - you may be sporting a few black spots on your smile.

The photo at top has a smiley face made of takuan pickles, which is strictly optional.

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oh the memories

There is nothing that says happy food memory for me more than rice + katsuo + nori. It’s like the “taste of childhood” trifecta.

Hihi, nice the little face

Hihi, nice the little face on your nori! Thank you for these simple recipes. It’s true that most of the people don”t bother explaining every little tip like you do! Hum, I’ll try this recipe!

Tried it ~ Love it!

I made this as part of my bento today (and of course some of it made it’s way into my mouth before I closed the box). I loved it! My husband is being a baby though. First he said it smelled funny, then he said he would “try it”. sigh Some people just cannot appriciate good food, OR compliment their wives on making it for them on a daily basis.
Anyway, I love the recipes you post here - they make my bento making and weight loss seem easier and frankly makes it taste better than anything I could come up with!

tried it ^^

I tried it today and it tastes terrific (i love the aroma of soy sauce, katsuo, and nori). However noriben looks more like an onigiri-in-a-box to me. Anyway, it’s delicious! Thanks for your recipes!

looks good!

This recipe looks really yummy. I’m going to make it tonight (sans bonito) for my bento tomorrow!

A lot?

Hi! Could i ask, how much calories would this contain? I’m afraid it’ll be too much but i really think it looks too delicious not to eat.

It just depends on the amount of rice you use

…there are very few calories in nori or katsuobushi, not enough to worry about. So it just depends on the amount of rice you use really. You could make it in a small box and have a few calories, or in a huge box on… you get the idea :)

Tuna Substitution

If you don’t have bonito flakes (or you don’t think you’ll like them), you could substitute canned tuna. I’ve done that in a pinch.

Re: Noriben, a true Japanese classic

I made my first Noriben! It came out great! But I didn't have any bonito flakes so I made the Salmon furikake #7 because I had salmon, sake, mirin, and soy sauce. Bonito flakes are kind of hard for me to find in TX unless I order off the internet. The Asian stores I go to are mostly Vietnamese with some Japanese items. Same with the Korean mrkt. But I made do with the Salmon and it tasted great! Thanks!

Re: Noriben, a true Japanese classic

Looks so simple to make! One question though that I have yet to find the answer to. What type of rice would you use specifically since there are so many types @_@

Re: Noriben, a true Japanese classic

Unless I specify otherwise, I always use medium grain Japanese style rice in bentos. You may find this article: Looking at rice useful.

Re: Noriben, a true Japanese classic

I know you posted this in 2008, but I had this for the first time today in my bento for lunch and I think it's going to be a staple for me from now on, I really loved it. Thanks a ton!

Re: Noriben, a true Japanese classic

I'm intrigued. It looks really easy to make and tasty too. But I have a VERY basic question. How do you eat this? What utensil(s) do you use? Or do you just use your fingers and break off pieces? Chopsticks don't look like they would work and fork and knife aren't Japanese. Or am I misjudging the size and it's really just bite size?

Re: Noriben, a true Japanese classic

It's eaten with chopsticks, which work fine for this.

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