Sushi vs. Nigiri vs. Onigiri Rice Balls

Sushi is one of the best and most loved Japanese dishes, together with ramen, gaining popularity in many countries over the past decades.

The dish has over a thousand years of history, described and found in the compendium of laws “Engishiki (延喜式)” compiled in 927.

As you know, sushi comes in many styles and forms, and nigiri, not onigiri, is one of the representatives. 

Sushi vs. Nigiri vs. Onigiri

Nigiri and onigiri are confusing, and the similarity of the words leads to misunderstanding.

In the Japanese language, “お (o)” is often used as a prefix to make the expression of a word polite (for example, o-sushi is the polite way to say sushi), but this doesn’t apply to onigiri.

In other words, nigiri and onigiri are different things; the former is a variety of sushi, but the latter is not.

Onigiri (おにぎり)

Onigiri Rice Balls

In the first place, onigiri is unavailable in Japanese sushi restaurants. Instead, you can eat it in eateries like “Teishokuya (定食屋)” and “Shokudo (食堂)”.

Onigiri is similar to sushi in that it uses the seaweed sheet nori, and the rice is shaped into a ball.

But unlike sushi, onigiri’s rice is plain or only lightly salted, and its shape can also be a triangle (virtually can be any shape).

Popular ingredients for onigiri include sujiko/ikura, tarako/mentaiko, tuna-mayo, umeboshi, and grilled salmon, which are placed in the center of the rice ball.

Nigiri Sushi (握り寿司)

Nigiri Sushi

Nigiri or Nigirizushi is a quintessential type of sushi. It is a star on the menu of sushi restaurants but can’t be found in Teishokuya/Shokudo eateries.

Unlike onigiri, nigiri uses sumeshi made of rice with rice vinegar, sugar, and salt, rarely wrapped with nori.

Nigirizushi typically consists of oblong-shaped sumeshi topped with a raw fish slice whose source is usually from these.

Compared to onigiri, the nigiri sushi is high-priced, but they are both comfort foods in Japan bought in supermarkets.

(Reference Pages: Wikipedia 寿司, おにぎり )


Hi, I'm Tomo, a Japanese blogger living in Niigata Prefecture, Japan. For the purpose of enriching your life, I would like to introduce things about Japan on this blog, especially unique Japanese products, cooking recipes, cultures, and facts and trivia.

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