Onigirazu 101: How to make rice sandwiches

Sandwiches are a staple in almost every kid’s lunch box in North America but Chef Sang Kim says we should be prepared to swap our bread for rice. 

Onigiri vs. Onigirazu vs. Samgak
(i.e. rice balls) have been around since the 10th Century. They’re similar in concept to a sandwich in that they have ingredients encased in a refined carb. Usually one or two ingredients, maximum, would go inside a rice ball. The difference is that they’re a fully enclosed triangular rice sandwich so you don’t see the ingredients inside.

Onigiri is perfect for picnics as a quick meal but it has a couple of problems. First, the stuffing (i.e. protein or vege) is concentrated only in the central part of the rice. Second, it’s difficult to eat because it’s not encased in nori. Rather, the nori cradles it from underneath so it can get messy.

Onigirazu was introduced in Japan in the 90s as a take on the western style sandwich. Some people call it a sushi sandwich but the truth is, you can put whatever ingredients you want inside.

Three decades on, these rice-based sushi sandwiches are extremely popular within Japanese culture and are also served at trendy sushi chains across the globe.

Samgak, the Korean version, is two slabs of rice, used just like bread, with ingredients compressed in between. Samgak didn’t become a thing until closer to the 2000s.

Making Onigirazo
  • Start with a bamboo sheet on top of your table. Place a layer of saran wrap over the bamboo sheet and then a layer of nori (seaweed) over the saran wrap.
  • Put rice into mold and place it on the bamboo sheet to create the bottom layer of “bread.”
  • Add whatever ingredients you like on top of the bottom rice layer. Note: You can use whatever ingredients you want; these sandwiches are completely customizable. 

Rice-to-filling ratio
The top part of the mold is designed to compact the rice so you can make it as thin or as thick as you want. You just have to be sure there’s enough rice to hold the ingredients inside.

Finishing the sandwich
  • Put rice into mold again and place overtop of the ingredients to create the final/top layer.
  • The nori sheet is sitting underneath the bottom layer of rice. Fold it around the rice sandwich.
  • Wrap saran wrap around it and cut it.

Nori vs. Soy
  • People who don’t like the taste of nori (seaweed) will use a soy wrap. The soy wrap is a little thinner than a tortilla wrap.
  • Nori is great because it sticks to the rice but the soy wrap doesn’t stick quite as well.
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