Rice defines me as a Japanese person

2 or 3 times a year, my mother sends me a big care package from Japan. She sends it by seamail, which takes forever, but that’s because she always includes a bag of rice.

Whenever a bag of rice arrives from my mother, I carefully open the bag and make a small batch, washed and simply cooked in a rice cooker. Plain and unadorned. Just to confirm that yes, it was worth the hassle it causes to my mother, not to mention the debt I owe to her for it. And every time, I know, again, that it was.

The rice she sent is koshihikari from a small organic farm in Ishikawa prefecture. The bag is marked by hand with the date the rice was polished. The grains are clear white and translucent. When cooked, each grain is plump, separate yet clings delicately to its neighbors when scooped up onto chopsticks.

I’m often asked what ingredients and supplies one needs to get to cook Japanese dishes, and what are the keys to Japanese cooking and so on. I try to answer as well as I can. But I think I fail to get through this point: Rice is the key to Japanese food. It has to be the right kind of rice, and it has to be good rice.

The older I get, the more convinced I am that we are defined by the type of carbohydrate we fall back on. I like all kinds of starches - bread, pasta, dumplings, all kinds of grains, all kinds of rice - but the one I go back to, the one that makes me most comfortable, is Japonica rice. Give me a bowl of rice, and maybe some pickles or umeboshi, and I’m happy.

For the Guy, it’s bread, no question; a rough country-type of bread (halbwiess is a favorite, as is pain paillaisse, a twisted mixed grain sourdough bread). Give him a loaf of bread, some cheese and maybe a little dried cured meat, and he’s happy.

What’s your fall-back carb? Does it define you in any way?

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The Spud.

My mixed family of French-Canadians and Scottish/Irish folk from New England/Atlantic Canada have really locked me into the lowly potato. Mashed with cream and butter, baked and served with the skin, french (freedom fried?) fried, riced, boiled or diced and cubed into a stew make for a regular addition to the meal. My wife is a great fan of Irish Ice Cream and must make an effort to choose rice.
She feels better about that.

Best,
mysofa

Dedicated to all things yummy.

mysofa | 11 June, 2008 - 21:52

Irish ice cream! I love it.

Irish ice cream! I love it.

maki | 12 June, 2008 - 18:23

As brazilian, I had to think

As brazilian, I had to think about this. We have many culture influences and it’s kind of hard to pinpoint what ONE starch defines me.

I have to say that the “black beans & rice” combo is pretty much the staple of the brazilian table on the everyday life and certainly was in mine. In fact, when I moved out of the country ( I live in the US), it was and still is “black beans and rice” that makes me feel at home.

There is a difference between cuban and brazilian (cooked) black beans. They are definitely not the same thing taste wise. The spices are very distinct in the cuban version (not worse or better, just different).

Also, black beans is the base for our most famous dish: the feijoada (black beans and various pork meats). But I can’t name “black beans” only, because one can’t have black beans w/o rice. Not in Brazil. : )

Lelê | 11 June, 2008 - 23:15

Nothing like good rice

This post reminded me of an eGullet question that was posted in the Hawaii forum. A visitor to Maui was wondering how to make the rice that’s served with the plate lunches they ate in many places. They theorized that coconut milk or some other secret ingredient was used. I haven’t been to Maui, but I’m pretty sure the rice was everyday medium grain white rice cooked in a Japanese style rice cooker. I guess compared to Uncle Ben’s brand it must have seemed pretty exotic. :-)

Fran | 12 June, 2008 - 01:01

Re: Nothing like good rice

Yeah, there's nothing in the rice as far as I know. Some places might use instant dashi, but it's most likely just water, rice, and salt. That's all I've ever tasted. Using a good rice cooker is probably how they're getting the mouthfeel the person was experiencing.

AmandaonMaui | 22 May, 2012 - 20:43

Mine is also rice - I prefer

Mine is also rice - I prefer Jasmine rice (but I’m Chinese). If I go longer than a few days without it, I start to crave rice - which made it really hard when my husband and I did a tour of Europe!

There’s just nothing like the aroma of freshly cooked rice. Or the comforting feeling of a hot bowl of congee.

Chinalilly | 12 June, 2008 - 01:28

Michael Pollan of course

Michael Pollan of course says that we Americans are primarily people of corn, in all sorts of manifestations. But I’d probably say wheat in its many manifestations (bread, pasta, cereal, etc.). As a homebrewer, part of me wants to answer the question with “malted barley.”

John | 12 June, 2008 - 01:47

rice

Rice is my default, although noodles/pasta are good for variety.

My grandmother used to send my mom care packages via sea mail, too. We used to get lots of teas, candies, and crackers. I always thought she put a lot of care into putting them together. I miss her still.

yoko | 12 June, 2008 - 02:24

Mine is absolutely bread,

Mine is absolutely bread, especially the whole wheat kind I’ve made myself. Made with rosemary, garlic, and some onion and sweet red peppers…absolute heaven! Though as a Midwesterner, a fresh ear of sweet corn just steamed is pretty hard to beat. If it’s fresh enough, no butter or salt. Just…corn.

Katie | 12 June, 2008 - 03:33

Rice for me!

I keep my Nishiki and rice cooker in my bedroom…Seriously. Wake up, start the rice. I guess I am the Dunkin Donuts guy equivalent to rice cooking. :-p I can eat it all day, and have. Love rice so much my friends even give me bags of different brands they find. Love it! d(^_^)b

Mocha | 12 June, 2008 - 04:10

I'm a pasta girl

Although I’m Chinese, I must say my fall-back carb is pasta, particularly short pastas like rotini and Scoobi Doos that just cling to whatever you put on them. I do love rice, but I guess I prefer pasta because I associate rice and Chinese food with making a LOT of different side dishes, whereas pasta is usually a one-bowl affair for me.

Vincci | 12 June, 2008 - 05:04

I smiled when reading this

I smiled when reading this post. As you say, you never express enough love to rice. I remember I got hooked to your blog after I red your old rice post. Thank you for sharing this love with us all!

Although I eat rice every day and also have a rice cooker in my bedroom(due to the lack of space in my tiny Tokyo ap), I think I am a potato person. In my case it has to do with my childhood. What was the food that gave me comfort? I remember when I had a flu and fever and rejected all the food, I would get mashed potatoes, infused with some cream, for extra energy. It was warm and fluffy and easy to eat and would fall asleep after. Even today, when I get really sick, the only craving I have is mashed potatoes.

t-in-t | 12 June, 2008 - 05:31

Mashed Potatoes

Mine is mashed potatoes, specifically Shepherd’s Pie: ground beef, peas, mashed potatoes, and cheddar cheese melted on top.

Annie | 12 June, 2008 - 05:46

Italiano

I’m not quite half Italian, but my grandmother is full blooded so the things my dad grew up learning to cook were very Italian things. When I was a kid, there was scarcely a dinner cooked at our house that did not involve some kind of pasta. Now, though I enjoy rice as much as any Japanese-cuisine enthusiast, a big plate of pasta will make me feel full and satisfied, no matter how bare my cupboards are.

A pile of hot pasta, particularly linguine, with a bit of sauce -any kind-, or even just a little swatch of butter… That’s my carb, now and forever.

ginakuma | 12 June, 2008 - 07:55

Rice and potatoes

It’s funny, me as half brasilian and half swiss no one would expect that the most i love is asian rice…
Brasilians do eat a lot of rice too, but not the same kind of rice i like. my mom used to make California Rice every day, and i ate it cause i didn’t have a choice, of course it could be worse but there was nothing to compare with my beloved plain “sushirice”, basmati,jasmin rice and so on… and potatoes, every kind of potatoes normal or sweet in any kind of way…
My swiss grandma always said: “if there is something like a ‘live before’ you deffinetly used to be a little japanese” i’m the only in the family who loves the japanese kitchen that much!and the japanese culture is so fascinating to me! i’d love to travle to japan once!

ichigo-chan | 12 June, 2008 - 09:45

nothing compare to RICE

Lately,I discover about genmai and kuromai here in Japan.When I buy obento,I always choose kuromai or rice with kokumotsu.It is delicious,healthy. But sometimes, I prefer sandwich for lunch or dinner. Of course,the rice is my favorite especially when the viands are fish dishes.

Karen | 12 June, 2008 - 13:03

Hi Maki, I just want to

Hi Maki,
I just want to say I read your site all the time and it has really inspired me to experiment more with washoku! Funny that the rice your mom sends you is from Ishikawa ken because that is where I am living right now. I’d like to learn cooking from one of my friends’ okaasans but somehow timing never seems to work out..oh well..but I’m trying my best based on your web posts..I hope someday I’ll be able to make bentos that warm the heart and soul (like a good bowl of oatmeal or rice in your case!)

go Ishikawa pride!

これからよろしくね! ^_^

Rachel | 12 June, 2008 - 16:03

Brown Rice

As a Californian of Scotch-Irish descent raised in the 1970s, my preferred starch is short-grained brown rice - the best comfort food in the world. As an adult, I love short grained Cal-Rose rice, but still eat brown rice frequently. Both organic and grown in California.

I am a fan of Thai sticky rice and nicely done basmati as well.

Ms. Jen | 12 June, 2008 - 18:33

brown rice!

Brown japanese rice reminds me of sitting at my grandma’s dining table in Hawaii, watching her cook in the kitchen. She was Okinawan, and her children were hippies and vegetarians, back when there were few health food stores on the island. Her hippie kids influenced her to cook brown rice. So we all had to eat it. We ate brown rice at home, and white rice at restaurants and other people’s homes. My grandpa would excitedly say, “ooooh! white rice!” as if it were a piece of steak, which he was also deprived of.

So today, I still eat brown rice daily. And “ooooh, white rice!” is occasional.

julie | 12 June, 2008 - 18:45

The potato, in any form, is

The potato, in any form, is a big hit in my family.My younger brother and I, however, love the “french” bread we get here from the local grocery store. It was the first kind of bread that we could stand to eat the crust off of and we now eat it with everything, or sometimes by itself and a glass of milk.

Mauri | 12 June, 2008 - 21:23

Japanese rice. I eat a lot

Japanese rice. I eat a lot of indian food and so make basmati but always I return for a bowl (or two) of Japanese rice. My favorite breakfast is rice with an egg softly fried in butter. yum.

Lori | 12 June, 2008 - 23:48

Rice

For me it is rice, too. More specifically, Jasmine rice. I’m from a Chinese background, so this type of rice is always present, in almost every single meal. Sometimes we have pasta for dinner, and my mom or dad will still cook some rice! Other times we will have sticky rice dishes, which are always delicious with shiitake mushrooms.

I find that when I eat different types of rice such as parboiled rice, it is so different that I cannot wrap my head around the idea of that rice as a staple in my diet.

Having said all that, I loooooove all types of starchy foods…breads, potatoes, pastas, noodles, etc. Yum-yum!

P.S.: Thank you so much for your sites! They’re great reads :)

katherine | 13 June, 2008 - 05:01

for me it’s definitely

for me it’s definitely rice ^^ jasmine rice of course, because I have it everyday. Well, one cup of good white rice with fried egg and a drizzle of sweet soy sauce…

Mei Ying | 13 June, 2008 - 09:49

Love carbs!

Bread! When I was about 4 or 5 years old my family was camping near a lake. While everyone was busy fishing I slipped away to eat a whole loaf of bread from the tiny cupboard in the travel trailer. This was around the same time that I stole a rutabaga from my Mom’s refrigerator. I kept it in my underwear drawer and took bites out of it at night. She couldn’t figure out what happened to it until she was putting laundry away—she thought I was nuts. Then I fell in love with spaghetti so much that I didn’t want to waste space in my stomach for sauce or milk.
I still love bread so much that we spend $6 + on Zingerman’s bread—they are based in Ann Arbor and their bakehouse is only a block from where I work.
But pasta, noodles, potatoes, all kinds of rice, no meal is complete without.

Tess | 13 June, 2008 - 14:44

Potatos and Rice

It’s great to see that even with all this lo-carb stuff people still love their carbs. They’re comfort food really and for me I eat potatoes the most when I’m with a group of people but rice when I feel lonely. Something about the ease of rice and how it comes out perfect every time whereas I can never make the perfect potato, I can always have great rice.

Cerri | 13 June, 2008 - 23:40

I’ve gone through phases

I’ve gone through phases in my life when I’ve preferred different carbs.
Bread
Pastas
Rice
Corn

I think I prefer rice these days, but still eat a great deal of pastas, love my breads, and enjoy corn. My friend repays me for helping out at her house with peirogi. I think the changing preference has followed with my expansion into different regional styles of cooking. Once I got away from American parboiled long grain rice, I found I really loved it. I don’t know that any one of these defines me, but I think the openness to change and trying new things is.

Denise | 14 June, 2008 - 02:20

I have to agree that

I have to agree that parboiled long-grain rice is about the most tasteless form of rice there is…it needs jazzing up with (often) fattening or salty ingredients. While many other kinds of rice can be enjoyed just as-is. Besides Japanese rice I particularly like basmati.

I’m loving the comments to this thread! Hooray for carbs indeed :)

(Come to think of it, my ultimate comfort food when I’m feeling particularly low is a bowl of mashed potatoes with butter…aka Mrs. mysofa’s Irish Ice Cream? )

maki | 14 June, 2008 - 05:56

My carb of choice

If you had asked me a couple of months ago, the answer would have been easy. Bread, especially chewy, artisan bread, reminiscent of the Basque bread I ate as a child. Slather it with butter, and I feel happy!

But a couple of months ago, I got hold of some of the ground, precooked cornmeal that is used to make the Venezuelan (and, I hear, Colombian) staple, arepas. Shaped like a flattened round roll, but dense like polenta, it is kneaded, shaped, lightly pan-fried, then baked very hot to make a heavy, mildly corn-meal flavored carb-object.

I lived in Venezuela from the age of about 7 to 11. I only got the harina pan flour on a whim.

But when I cooked them up, sliced them open, put on a little butter and bit down, I was back in my childhood, safe and loved.

I was home.

Kathy in S.B.

Kathy in S.B. | 14 June, 2008 - 21:56

Whilst I love potatoes, my

Whilst I love potatoes, my mainstay has always been rice. And Spanish rice at that.
The one problem I always had with Spanish rice was eating it plain and unadorned, the simplest way I make it is by adding olive oil to a pan, plenty of garlic, a little salt and then stirring in the rice for a few moments before adding the water/stock and simmering. I still love Spanish rice and I’m still learning new ways to cook with it.

My love of Spanish rice is probably why I’ve been able to embrace and accept Japanese plain rice so completely. But it does mean that my taste is for less ‘refined’ grains. Although I enjoy and appreciate Koshihikari it’s not the rice I’d choose for every day consumption, even Akitakomachi is probably a little too sophisticated for me. It’s just as well I like the Nishiki brand as this is one of the cheapest and easiest brands I can buy in bulk in London, but I suspect that my taste for this rice as a staple comes from its similarity to the Spanish rices I’ve grown up with.

Loretta | 16 June, 2008 - 14:07

Pasta is Home

I love all kind of starches, and I love rice so very much, but my baseline starch is and always will be pasta. 3/4 Italian, so it’s not big surprise. I grew up with some form of pasta 3 or 4 times a week. It’s a meal, or a snack, or a sidedish. It’s a vehicle for sauces and soups. It’s cheap and quick, or elaborate and fancy (with some great wine). I know how to make it from scratch, so as long as I can afford flour and borrow an egg I will never starve.

Veronica | 19 June, 2008 - 01:31

My boyfriend, who is

My boyfriend, who is Japanese, makes really lovely rice (especially when he serves it in our little blue glass fish-shaped bowls). I never ate it before—rice, pasta, bread, they all make me sleepy. For me it’s fruit—peeling an orange makes me feel better than anything, from the first sound of the peel to the squirt of juice on your fingertips.

shannon | 20 June, 2008 - 01:43

honestly

i have to say that i can’t choose. i ate quite a diverse menu growing up (german/adopted american). i love japanese rice—it was the staple rice of the household and all other sorts appeared only rarely. i also love good crusty bread. and potatoes are surprisingly good to me if i haven’t had them in a while. tortillas and arepas are great (so is injera). and noodles and pasta are really good. rice noodles especially.

but i don’t think there is one that i turn to the most (carb-wise).

i just crave with the day.

but, yeah, rice is really good. although i can’t claim it because i can skip it in a way that some of the above people can’t/won’t/really don’t want to.

but all of this is positive—i love to cook and eat cuisines from all over the world and i guess my response reflects this.

maybe i agree with the poster who says fruit. although for me it would be vegetables. i need to eat veggies and start to feel bad when i don’t—but i don’t know if this is quite the same. i don’t know if there is one or two types or preparations that i really crave. i have to think about it.

anon. | 21 June, 2008 - 00:05

How to make Ume-zu (Plum Vinegar with Shiso Leaves)

Hello Maki,

I am so happy to discover your site, really enjoy it! Wonderful.

Recently I spent a month in Japan (June) and just loved it. Among many amazing dishes which I tried there, I absolutely LOVE the pickled eggplant and a drink which is a mixture of plum wine (with shiso leaves) and green tea. In about a week, I can get some Ontario plums from here (Ottawa) so I am thinking to try to make some Ume-zu with Shiso leaves.

If you know how to make plum vinegar with shiso leaves, and if you don’t mind to share the recipe with me, I would really appreciate it.

Many thanks!
Nguyen

anon. | 11 July, 2008 - 17:11

ume su

Umesu or umezu is actually a by-product of making umeboshi (pickled ume plums). It is the salty-sour liquid that es exuded from the ume fruit as they are salted down with the red shiso. Unfortunately, western plums, while in the same family as ume (as are apricots and peaches) are not the same. So you’d have to get hold of some ume and make umeboshi.

One of these days I want to either experiment with making ‘umeboshi’ from apricots or plums, or to try to get a hold of some ume (may have to grow my own ume trees!) Until then though I’m afraid I don’t have a recipe for making umeboshi, umesu or umeshu (ume ‘wine’ or liquor).

maki | 12 July, 2008 - 19:33
Because I'm from Boca Raton, FL... | 18 July, 2008 - 18:44

Potatoes

Potato. Yup, definitely. In our family dinner has usually always come back to mashed potato, meat and some kind of green vegetable. We used to eat a fair amount of pasta, but recently we have been having more rice based dishes.

Con | 18 August, 2008 - 15:41

Me 2 Me 2

I have lived in England such long time. I also like all kind of grains, bread, pasta etc. in here.
But RICE is my comfortable food. And I also eat brown rice daily, white rice is for occasionally.
In my meal, Good rice is the main role. And I enjoy to cook rice with pan instead of rice cooker. When I fly back to home to visit my family I would ask for my mom special rice cuz she sometimes cooks rice with the clay pot.
^Ç^

yuenn | 14 September, 2008 - 02:53

My favourite carb?

medium/short grain white rice, hands down. As an Indonesian who eats this type of rice everyday (only when I’m in indo), I realise that it’s almost the same as Japonica rice - minus the stickiness.

MitarashiDango | 23 September, 2008 - 12:11

it's gotta be rice

i love rice plain, with salt, with seasoned nori, with butter and soy sauce, with a raw egg…i could go on and on. my son is hooked on rice also. even though he’s always lived in the states, he grew up with rice. he’s six and sometimes can be a picky eater but if you entice him with white rice, he’s there.

anon. | 30 September, 2008 - 22:59

The carb I eat most often is

The carb I eat most often is rice, but I would say that for comfort, my fall back carb is oats. Whenever I am sickly/tired/etc. a bowl of oat porridge always makes me feel better.

Memriy | 1 October, 2008 - 05:06

definitely rice - japonica

definitely rice - japonica or thai jasmine.

sabrina | 1 October, 2008 - 14:51

Definitely

Rice. XD

I grew up with rice, and thought I hate it, until I go to college where rice is kind of hard to cook when you don't have a rice cooker, and more than often have to choose another carb like pasta or potato.

My family used to cook pandan rice. It was sticky, but not as short grain as the Japanese rice, and have the aroma of pandan there. It was the most favoured kind of rice in my hometown, though recently my mom change to red rice or brown rice for health reasons...

haezer | 19 August, 2009 - 01:51
keiko. | 21 January, 2010 - 15:11

Re: Rice defines me as a Japanese person

I will be the first to say tortillas! I live in Italy, and my mom sends tortillas with everyone that visits so that I can hoard them for emergencies in the freezer. The tortilla...especially the thick, handmade kind, slightly blistered from the comal. But even machine made corn tortillas are delicious. We would never have had a fridge bare of tortillas in the house when I was growing up. To be fair, we ate rice every day too, usually long grain saffron rice, always sauteed with onions and garlic and cooked in broth. When my mother married a Japanese man, we started eating much more white Japanese rice too-but there is nothing like my mom's rice, black beans and tortillas. The perfect meal!

HomieSapiens | 18 April, 2013 - 16:37

Re: Rice defines me as a Japanese person

My stepson once said "pizza defines me"...and then shortly after declaring that he didn't like cheese (but pizza didn't count ?)

For my boy, who has no food cultural heritage because he was born into a family that didn't stick to "traditional" cooking, it is pasta, first last and always...

But for me and my husband it is potato... he's english/welsh I'm english/irish...preferably mashed, but boiled, steamed or roast would also hit the spot

But we also enjoy plain rice if it is cooked well...and Udon noodles...

Over the last 30 years food heritage has become so blurred...

Pennie | 1 December, 2013 - 01:44

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