Ingredients, dishes and drinks from Japan by Ad Blankestijn

Saturday, May 19, 2012


Cooked rice. ご飯, 御飯。

There are several words for rice in Japanese, depending on the state your favorite carbohydrate is in. When in the shop or on your kitchen shelve, it is called kome. But after leaving your rice cooker as a nicely lucent constituency, it is called gohan. As rice has for centuries and centuries been the staple food in Japan, the word gohan also just denotes "a meal." A more folksy word (some say "blue collar") is meshi, also in both meanings. Raisu, finally, is rice served on a plate, the English term used for Western style rice - which is eaten with a spoon! It is served with yoshoku as kare-raisu, omuraisu etc.

Food rice is usually cooked and steamed, for which either an electric rice cooker (with a timer and various preset cooking programs called seihanki) can be used, or the traditional iron pan.

In both cases, rice first has to be washed and rinsed to release excess starch (although nowadays also "musenmai," rice that does not have to be rinsed anymore, is sold in supermarkets) - be careful to do this quickly so that the rice does not absorb the washing water. Thorough rinsing while softly grinding with your hand is important as the cooked rice otherwise may have a bad smell. Do this 30 min to 1 hr before cooking the rice.

After that, rice may be soaked in clean water for 30 min; it may also be cooked immediately after rinsing. In any case, before cooking it should be drained in a colander.

When using a rice cooker, follow the instructions given by the manufacturer. When cooking rice in a pan, use a heavy, tight-lidded pot. The water added in the pot should cover the rice by about 2.5 cm (1 inch) - another rule of thumb is one plus one fifth cup of water against one cup of rice. For new rice (shinmai) water can be one cup against one cup of washed rice. Cook till all the water is absorbed by the rice - first at medium heat to bring it to a boil, then at high heat which brings about a starchy bubbling; and finally at low heat when this bubbling has ceased, to absorb the rest of the water. Keep the lid on the pot while cooking. Then, turn off the heat and let the rice settle, covered, for 15 to 20 minutes.

Okoge is the name for a crusty brown scorch on the bottom of the rice. As long as this is not a black, smelly burn (which makes the rice unusable), it is popular for its crunchiness, and people sometimes deliberately scorch rice to use for onigiri or chazuke.

Cooked rice is usually served from the rice cooker directly into a chawan, or rice bowl. Alternatively, rice may also be brought to the table in a covered wooden box called an ohitsu, and then served into rice bowls.

Besides the plain white rice in a bowl which accompanies meals, rice can also be used in various delicious rice dishes:
  • Onigiri, rice balls
  • Sushi (sushi-meshi, vinegared rice, is used)
  • Chazuke, green tea poured over rice with a topping
  • Zosui, rice boiled in a soup seasoned with soy sauce ("risotto")
  • Kayu, rice gruel, easily digestible
  • Takikomi-gohan, rice cooked together with other, seasonal ingredients, for example bamboo shoots or green peas in spring, and chestnuts or mushrooms in autumn. Foods with cooking times longer than the rice must be precooked.
  • Maze-gohan, "mixed rice." Here the added ingredients are not cooked together with the rice, but mixed into the cooked rice during the settling period.
  • Kamameshi is rice steamed with other ingredients in fish bouillon and seasoned with soy sauce. Served in a clay pot.
  • Donburi, a rice bowl with a topping as egg, chicken or tonkatsu
  • Chahan/yakimeshi, fried rice Chinese-style
  • Piraffu, Western-style pilaf
Although etiquette does not allow you to put your vegetables or fish on top of the rice in your rice bowl before eating it, there are several "official" toppings:
  • umeboshi, a pickled plum
  • tsukudani, tiny fish and vegetables simmered in shoyu and mirin
  • furikake, dried toppings as small pieces of nori mixed with sesame seeds and katsuobushi, or salmon flakes
  • nori, dried seaweed
  • iwanori, rock laver
It is also common to eat some pickles (tsukemono) with your rice (but these are served on the side).

White rice and Umeboshi
[White rice with a pickled plum]