Onigiri vs onigirazu | How they differ and why you want to try them both

                by Joost Nusselder | Updated:  September 19, 2021

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Onigiri (also known as omusubi/ nigirishimi or Japanese rice ball) and onigirazu are two Japanese foods. They are both very popular, but for different reasons. Let’s see their differences!

Onigiri vs onigirazu | How they differ and why you want to try them both

Onigiri is a white rice-based food, wrapped with seaweed (nori), in a triangular or cylindrical shape. On the contrary, onigirazu is sushi, and it is often referred to as the “sushi sandwich”. These two foods are cooked differently, contain different ingredients, and come in different forms.

Onigiri

As it is a very popular food – also a trend – in Japan, it can be bought from a convenience store.

In addition, there are some restaurants that provide onigiri as a take-out choice (in bento boxes), since it is easy to eat while on the road. It is usually very affordable.

Taking into consideration that the rice isn’t cooked in the same way as the rice is cooked for sushi, onigiri is very easily preserved, and for quite some time (a couple of days).

History

It is quite interesting how, when onigiri was invented (around the 17th century), it was necessary to find a way to preserve this food (there were no refrigerators).

Therefore, they used natural preservatives such as salt or vinegar, in order to keep the rice in a compact form and preserved.

The first appearances of this food are during the 17th century. This food is actually named tonjiki in diaries that date even earlier than the 17th century.

This food is seen in picnics, even at war. Soldiers are known to take with them small, triangular balls or rice as quick snacks, before the war.

It is still not clear when onigiri was actually invented, but it appears during the Kamakura or the Edo period.

Onigirazu

Onigirazu, also known as the “sushi sandwich”, is a quite unique food because it combines Western cuisine elements (sandwich) with the Japanese elements (steamed rice, seaweed, and a variety of fish).

In order to prepare this sandwich, we need the rice to be salted enough, without necessarily seasoning it. Since it is larger than the onigiri, we need larger amounts of fillings, fish or meat, and more seaweed.

It is supported that onigirazu, in comparison with onigiri, is a more modern option. It is considered to be onigiri but in an evolved version.

Therefore, it combines both traditional elements (onigiri), and modern elements (the concept of the sandwich).

In general, onigirazu is more difficult and complicated than onigiri. Take into consideration that, every ingredient and filling is wrapped in seaweed hence, everything has to be in rather small portions, and with a balanced taste.

It is quite interesting how onigirazu came into existence. It was first seen during the 1980s, in the adult manga series “Cooking Papa”.

Because of the fact that real recipes were used in the series, onigirazu came into existence both on the series and in reality, and very soon everyone knew it.

Onigiri vs onigirazu: cooking, fillings, and ingredients

Let’s look at specific details that differentiate onigiri from onigirazu.

Preparing the rice

First of all, the most basic difference is the preparation and the cooking of the rice.

Onigiri rice is cooked plainly without any seasoning while the rice for onigirazu is cooked with salt, and sometimes with vinegar and/or sugar, like sushi rice.

Fillings

Second of all, since onigirazu is a sandwich, there are more options when it comes to the fillings. Here is a list of fillings that you include in your own onigirazu:

Furthermore, onigiri tends to be more simple regarding its fillings, in part due to its relatively small size. The fillings mentioned below are the ones used more often when creating onigiri.

Most popular

Third of all, onigirazu is generally more preferred than onigiri. Even though onigiri is the traditional and original one, onigirazu is the modern choice, that also serves better as a dish.

Therefore, people can eat it for lunch, brunch, dinner etc. Onigiri is usually an appetizer or a part of a dish.

Seaweed

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Last but not least, it is important to mention that the seaweed used for both foods is very rich in minerals. If consumed in large amounts (too many onigirazus), it might upset our stomach, because of its large amount of iodine.

From this perspective, onigiri is safer for people that have hyperthyroidism.

Conclusion

Even though these two foods can sometimes be considered the same, there are many differences that set them apart.

Nevertheless, make sure to try both, the simpler (onigiri), and the more complicated choice (onigirazu)!

Here’s a recipe for Yaki onigiri, the perfect Japanese grilled rice ball snack for drinks

Ever had trouble finding Japanese recipes that were easy to make?

We now have "cooking Japanese with ease", our full recipe book and video course with step-by-step tutorials on your favorite recipes.

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.