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Panda Rice Balls

I have been mesmerized by the Japanese gastronomy for about 6 years now. Their attention to detail, their creativity, their ability to extract so much flavor from ingredients, their presentation of a dish, and their humble attitudes for serving you. These are qualities that speak profoundly about the culture. I was very lucky to visit Japan in 2014 and I am still discovering more about what I saw, what I ate, and the experience just from looking back at photos and rereading my journal. I have always made a point to write in journal on trips and grateful that I do. To capture the journey in words right at that moment creates more of a memory, at least for me, and especially when it comes to food. 

I was rereading one of the entries from my journal and I was talking about the train station we were at on our way to Nikko for the day. There were so many beautiful bento boxes in the shops and cafes that I was amazed. I couldn't stop looking and photographing. They were beautiful works of art with just a few ingredients. One after another after another all created perfectly. What astonished me was that even in a train station you could eat well. We eat first with our eyes and the Japanese cuisine fully understands this. By presenting a beautiful bento box with cute decorated forms of rice and flower shaped carrots and what not we become intrigued to eat it. I wanted to buy them all and eat them because they captured me so much. 

I decided to try my hand at creating one of the adorable rice balls I saw in Japan, Panda rice balls. 


Yields 8-10
Time= 90 minutes

1 1/2 cups sushi rice (using the rice cooker measuring cup)
1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon mirin
Nori sheets


1. Rinse sushi rice under cold water until water runs clear. This takes about 10-12 minutes. 

2. Soak rice in water for 30 minutes. Once you have done this, drain the water out. 

3. Place the rice in the rice cooker, add the correct amount of water mirin and salt. The instruction manual or designated lines in the rice cooker will tell you how much water to add. Close rice cooker and set to sushi rice. Depending on the rice cooker, the amount of rice, and the kind of rice you are cooking the times vary. This should take about 28-35 minutes for this recipe. 

4. Once the rice is cooked, removed and put it on a large plate and spread it out for it to cool some. 

5. Meanwhile cut the shapes of to make the panda from the nori. 

6. Once the rice has cooled some and is easy to handle get a bowl of water. Wet your hands well and begin to shape. If your hands are not wet the sushi rice will stick to you and not to itself. It is pretty messy if you don't wet your hands. 

7. Apply the nori cut outs with a dry finger or toothpick on the rice balls. 

You can garnish with some toasted sesame seeds or black sesame seeds if you desire. Enjoy! 


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