Vegan onigiri


Japan stole my heart. Having to leave was like breaking up with a boyfriend. I just wanted to stay. I couldn’t ever anticipate how much I’d love it there. Sure, being on holiday is great. No work, no bloody essays. Everyday is a new adventure. I am aware of this. But what I want to share with you, is how beautiful the Japanese culture is. It’s the very reason why I fell in love. The reason why I want to pack up my belongings and move there.

Australia is exceptionally multicultural. I’ve always loved this about our country. I was under the impression we had some kind of ‘cultural melting pot’. I’m sure that’s what we were taught at high school. But I now understand that this not the case at all.  There are so many cultural groups, yet we are all just coexisting. We are living separately. No shared values, shared understandings, shared beliefs. Just a shared space. And we are all so intolerant of one another.

This became really obvious to me while we were away,  because it is such a contrast to Japan. The Japanese people seem so unified by their culture. And it is a culture that is threaded together by values such as courtesy, consideration, and friendliness. Every encounter we had was beautiful. People went out of their way to help us, to make us feel welcome. Strangers on the street treated us like friends. We were treated with such respect, and we watched people treating each other with respect. It was magical. My seven year old son turned to me, about 8 days in, and asked “Mum, have you noticed how everyone in Japan is so nice? We should make a deal, that when we go back home we are as lovely as the people here.” I’m not even kidding. No amount of money in the world can buy this kind of enlightenment.

I could write a million words about our trip. About being nude in public bathhouses in the middle of Kyoto, with a bandaid covering my tattoo,  about a driverless train, about supermarket aisles full of the most amazing food I have ever seen. Or about being the only two people at a huge temple with hundreds of graves, riding loop the loop roller coasters at 10pm, or nervously eating raw seafood in front of new friends. I could write another million about sharing this incredible experience with my little boy. About the joy I felt watching my very shy boy walk into a cafe, bow to the shop attendant and confidently place his order in full Japanese. But I won’t, for I fear I lack the writing skills to convey just how incredible these experiences were. My heart is swollen, but not from the heart ache of having to leave. It’s full of memories so beautiful, that it just may burst.   

 sweet potato avocado onigiri

Sweet Potato + Avocado Onigiri / Pickled Veg + Avocado NORI ROLLS

(vegan and gluten free)
Makes 4 onigiri and 4 small nori rolls. They are a welcome addition to any lunch box . Experiment with your favourite ingredients. Sometimes I add grilled batons of tofu or slices of skinny omelet to the nori rolls. And my son likes salmon, avocado and kewpie mayo onigiri. 

  • 2 cups short grain rice
  • 2 sheets yaki nori
  • 1/2 avocado
  • 1 tsp black sesame seeds

for the Onigiri

  • handful of sweet potato cubes, roasted until soft

for the Pickled Veg

  • 3 batons of each – carrots, zucchini, capsicum
  • ½ cup of rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons of sugar
  • 2 teaspoons of salt

  1. First, cook the rice according to package instructions. I use a rice cooker, and use the 1 part rice to 1 and 1/2 parts water ratio, with a big pinch of salt. Once cooked, turn the rice onto a plate and leave at room temperature to cool.
  2. Next make the pickling solution, by placing the vinegar, sugar and salt in a pan, and heating gently  until the sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and submerge the vegetables in the warm pickling liquid. Set aside while you prepare the onigiri.
  3. To make the onigiri, tear off a sheet of cling film and place in the palm of your hand. Add a big scoop of rice, make a little indentation in the middle, and place a cube of avocado, and a cube or two of sweet potato in the middle. Sprinkle a few sesame seeds over the top. Using the cling film, enclose the ingredients to make a ball. Compress this ball tightly, and gradually make the triangle formation. Cut a sheet of nori into quarters. Remove the cling film from your triangle and wrap a little nori sheet around it. Repeat until you have made 4 onigiri.
  4. To make the nori rolls, place a full sheet of nori over a bamboo mat. Spread the remainder of the rice over (about) 3/4 of the sheet. Remove veggies from the pickling liquid and place in a row in the centre of the rice. Add fat slices of avocado along the row also. Sprinkle over a few sesame seeds. Using the mat, start from the bottom and firmly roll up your ingredients. Slice into 2 rolls, or 4 smaller ones if you like.
  5. Optional – serve with soy sauce, wasabi, or kewpie mayo.


Comments 4

  1. Isabel 30/07/2015

    Wow. I have been considering going to Japan, but this ringing endorsement has made up my mind…I must go, and go soon! Thank you for sharing your beautiful Japanese experiences, even though no words could do it justice.

  2. Paula 31/07/2015

    A lovely, evocative piece of writing, Jade, thank you. I don’t know whether this could suit your circumstances/dreams: I have a nephew in his 20s who has lived in Japan these past 18+ months teaching English. He has a Diploma (1 year) to teach English overseas, and that’s about it. Plus, everyone from Melb. visits.

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