Made with fluffy Japanese rice, chopped pickled plums, and sesame seeds, these Plum Rice Balls are THE BEST THING for a picnic and potluck! They are salted, lightly compressed, and wrapped in sheets of nori. It’s hard not to fall in love with the savory, tangy and nutty flavor.
Mr. JOC and I started watching season 2 of the popular Netflix® show – Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories so that we can re-create the recipes from the series. In Episode 3, an old man named Umejii went into the diner and requested for pickled plums. When the master handed him a plate, he ate 10 of these plums straight up! My mouth immediately watered and my face scrunched up, literally like a sour plum.
Then I glanced over at Mr. JOC sitting next to me. His face plain and he didn’t seem to show any sort of reactions. This simple scene was able to ignite such a strong response in me, but not my husband who obviously didn’t grow up eating ume plum. Isn’t it interesting how our mind reacts to the food memory we have?
Today I’m sharing the Plum Rice Ball (小梅のおにぎり) recipe that Umejii enjoyed eating in the episode. It would be fun if I could see your face scrunch reading about pickled plum in this post.
What is Plum Rice Ball?
In case you haven’t seen the show, the Plum Rice Ball is a triangle-shaped rice ball made of steamed white rice, chopped pickled plums, and sesame seeds, and cloaked in a sheet of dried nori seaweed.
Japanese Pickled Plum – Umeboshi
Umeboshi (梅干し) is a savory Japanese pickled ume plum and it’s eaten as a condiment or accompaniment for a bowl of rice, similar to tsukemono pickles or furikake rice seasoning.
Ume plums are salted, flavored with red shiso leaves, and then dried under the sun to make umeboshi. The ultimate companion for a bowl of plain steamed rice.
In general, there are two types of umeboshi made with different ume plums. The regular, bigger wrinkly pickled plum is called Umeboshi, and the smaller and plump umeboshi is called Ko Ume (小梅).
The pickled plums used in the Midnight Diner episode are Ko Ume. They are firm, tangy, salty, and come in a bright red color. You can often find these small red ume pickle in the middle of white steamed rice in a bento box. We call it “Hinomru Bento” (日の丸弁当), which represents Hinomaru (meaning “circle of the sun” representing a Japanese flag 🇯🇵).
Where to Find Ko Ume
I remember I used to see packages of small umeboshi at Japanese grocery stores, but when I decided to make the rice balls and looked for one, I couldn’t find it. I went to different Japanese grocery stores and they seem to disappear from the shelves. That’s strange, I thought. It shouldn’t be that popular that all the stores are sold out.
So I asked one of the staff when they would restock these pickles. And the lady said they can’t be imported any more due to the artificial red coloring used for the plums. It’s really unfortunate to see ingredient(s) that is not quite necessary being added to the foods that we feed our bodies.
In the end, I had asked my mother in Japan to send me a package of Ko Ume so I could make the recipe as close as what you see in the show. For your own enjoyment, please use the regular umeboshi that is healthier. The red color of the plums should come from only natural red shiso leaves, not additional artificial coloring. You will still yield the same flavors and faintly pinkish rice balls. The only difference would be the texture as regular umeboshi does not have the crisp crunch that Ko Ume is known for.
Tips on Making A Rice Ball
- Use Japanese short-grain rice – I can’t stress enough that you really need to use Japanese short-grain rice to make rice balls. Short-grain rice naturally sticks to each other once they are cooked. All you need to do is to gently press to keep all grains together.
- Wet your hands – It might sound silly to even mention it, but don’t touch cooked rice with bare hands. Rice just sticks to your hands and everywhere. Make sure that your hands are moist and that salt is applied to your hands to keep the rice balls safe at room temperature.
- Make the triangle roof – Holding a ball of rice in your left hand and making a 90-degree “roof” with your right index and middle fingers and your right palm, mold the rice into a triangle shape with gentle pressure.
- Rotate the rice ball – Press gently into a triangle rice ball shape while you rotate the rice ball so each corner gets a sharp 90-degree edge.
- Keep your rice ball at room temperature – With salt and sour pickles, the rice balls kept at cooler room temperature are relatively safe to consume even after a few hours later. Rice gets hard when kept in the refrigerator. If you really have to store in the refrigerator, wrap the rice balls with a thick towel to keep them cool, not too cold.
How to Serve Plum Rice Ball
In the “Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories”, the old man Umejii enjoyed the plum rice balls on its own. However, you can pack them in your bento lunch box or serve them as an after-school or midnight snack. They are fabulous with a cup of green tea!
Japanese Ingredient Substitution: If you want to look for substitutes for Japanese condiments and ingredients, click here.
Plum Rice Ball
- 1.5 lb cooked Japanese short-grain rice (this is the total amount of rice made from 2 rice cooker cups (360 ml) of uncooked short-grain rice)
- 3.5 oz pickled plums (ko ume) (
- 2 Tbsp toasted white sesame seeds
- 1 tsp kosher/sea salt (I use Diamond Crystal; use half for table salt)
- 3 sheets nori (seaweed) (Cut the nori sheets in thirds)
- Gather all the ingredients.
- Remove and discard the seeds from pickled plums.
- Mince the plums with a sharp knife.
- Add the chopped pickled plums and sesame seeds to the steamed rice.
- With a rice paddle, mix well together using a cutting motion. Don’t make it mushy. Roughly divide the rice into 6 or 8 equal portions.
- Prepare a bowl of water and a bowl of kosher salt. Wet both hands and then dip 2 fingertips in the salt and spread between your palms.
- Scoop the rice onto your palm. Gently press and form the rice into a triangle. I use three fingers (thumb, index finger, middle finger) to make a triangle corner.
- When you press, your hands should be just firm enough so the rice ball doesn't fall apart. You don't want to squeeze the rice too tight.
- Wrap the rice ball with nori seaweed. Enjoy!