The Japanese really have a very strong bond with rice, which is a precious commodity. It is a fundamental food in Japanese cuisine !
- Rice: the basis of Japanese cuisine
- A ranking of Japanese rice
- In the Japanese cuisine
- The choice of rice for Japanese cooking
- The declinations of rice
- Back to the Japanese rice tradition
Rice: the basis of Japanese cuisine
Rice in Japan is the basis of every meal. Some people compare rice to bread for the French, but it is actually much more than that. Rice called “Gohan” “ご飯” also means meal.
The Japanese really have a very strong bond with rice which represents a precious good. It is once again in the spotlight during festive meals. So you guessed it, it is impossible to waste a single grain of rice in Japan. Finally, you should know that during a meal, it is allowed to leave aside food that you do not appreciate, except for highly esteemed rice.
It is ubiquitous in Japan and goes well with meat, eggs, tofu, fish and seafood (sushi, maki, nigiri sushi etc…) vegetables and is even found in desserts. Small anecdote, rice is the first food that Japanese people make their baby taste! The dish is called Okayu (a rice porridge)!
We found that rice in Japan had the particularity of being round, sticky, shiny and really very tasty ! No butter or salt in the rice, we eat it as it is and it really tastes great! Indeed, it may seem strange but the quality of the grains and its preparation make it an exceptional rice, different from what we know in France. It is difficult for a French person to imagine himself raving about white rice. but this is indeed the case !
A ranking of Japanese rice
Rice in Japan, there are hundreds of different types of rice, depending on the region, the way it is grown, the variety of water… rice tastes different! You can even find on the rice packets, the photo of the rice farmer and a quality label of the rice. Indeed, several organizations make a ranking of the best Japanese rice.
The rice “koshihikari” “コシヒカリ” made in Uonuma in Nigata Prefecture is the most expensive rice sold in Japan and the best according to purists. The Japanese have a taste for well done things, add to this the rigor and respect typically Japanese and you get products of a rare quality. In Tokyo, for example, you will find in the stores, rice shelves packed in real cases of breathtaking refinement.
In the Japanese cuisine
As mentioned above, rice is present at every meal in different forms and in different recipes. Here are some typical Japanese dishes where we regularly find it.
It is almost useless to present the maki sushi. And yet, make no mistake! You think you know them well but unfortunately this is not the case. Outside japan we have only pale copies of all this. These small vinegar Japanese rice rolls surrounded by a nori leaf are really succulent. Their filling is very varied and of a rare freshness. Eaten with soy sauce and wasabi, they are today in the eyes of all a must in Japanese cuisine.
They are bites of vinegar rice topped with a “neta” a slice of raw fish, cooked or even half-cooked. There are other kinds of nigiri with crustaceans, sea urchins, fish roe, omelette etc..
The onigiri is a ball of rice in which are ingredients (meat, nori, dried bonito…) or the rice is mixed with these. It is considered as a snack and is very popular in Japan.
Onigirazu is a very popular dish in Japan and is eaten in bento. We could compare it to a big maki in sandwich.
The donburi is a type of dish. A large bowl of rice on which the filling is placed like :
- Breaded pork, the dish is called katsudon.
- Slices of beef, the dish is called gyudon
- Grilled eels, the dish is called unagi no kabayaki
- Chicken and eggs, the dish is called oyakodon.
- Tempura (fried seafood or vegetable fritters), the dish is called ten don
The choice of rice for Japanese cooking
You want to make Japanese rice to make homemade maki sushi ? But which rice to choose? You can take Japanese round rice, or special risotto rice that you can find in supermarkets. There are also special sushi rice from Italy or the United States, but we advise you to take rice directly from Japan.
Indeed, all the conditions in Japan make it an excellent and better quality rice. You can find it directly in Asian grocery stores, organic stores or on the internet.
The declinations of rice
Rice is the basis of the Japanese diet and also the basis of many products that are derived from rice such as miso for example. It would be difficult and probably boring to list all of them, so we will present the most famous ones.
- Mirin is a sweet rice wine that the Japanese also use a lot in their dishes.
- Cooking sake is an alcohol made from dry rice. It is used in many Japanese dishes. Cooking sake is less alcoholic than the classic sake intended to be drunk.
- Sake is undoubtedly one of the strong symbols of Japan. It can be found everywhere, and there is something for everyone. From the simplest to the finest, sometimes at very high prices.
- Rice vinegar has a less pronounced taste than Western vinegars, so it is light and less sweet. It is generally used for sushi, salad dressings and other marinades.
- Rice milk is a vegetable milk made by boiling brown (whole) milk in most cases in a large volume of water which is then filtered. This milk therefore has a naturally unsweetened taste. On the other hand, most of the milks marketed are sweetened with natural or cane sugars or even flavoured. It is a milk that is lower in proteins and calcium, contrary to what is written on most packaging. Rice milk is therefore often enriched with proteins, calcium and other vitamins. On the other hand, it has the advantage of not containing cholesterol and is suitable for people who are lactose intolerant.
- The rice crackers you know are mainly offered in the health food section of your supermarket. In Japan, there are many kinds of rice cakes. Seaweed patties, salty, sweet, etc. They are made simply from rice flour, water and salt for the simplest. They are a very good source of fiber and a healthy snack.
- Rice flour is nothing more and nothing less than finely ground rice. It is a fine powder that is cooked to make a dough with a different taste and texture than that made with wheat. The gyoza “ギョーザ” for example are made with rice flour. This flour is also an excellent substitute for wheat flour for gluten intolerant people.
- Rice pasta is made from rice flour. There are not many Japanese recipes using this pasta, preferring those with soft wheat for example. On the other hand, rice noodles are widely used in China, Vietnam, Thailand…
Back to the Japanese rice tradition
Faced with industrialization, rice farmers are returning to growing their rice in an artisanal and organic way. The rice is cultivated with care and picked up by hand. Far away from the rice industry and their mass production.