rice

Artisanal rice and "ancient" heirloom rice in The Japan Times

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About a trend in Japan towards growing delicious artisanal rice - article in The Japan Times. continue reading...

Japanese rice, grown in Europe or the United States

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While it is possible to substitute other types of rice for Japanese rice (see: Looking at rice) sometimes a Japanese dish just isn’t right unless you use Japanese-type or japonica rice.

Whenever I write about Japanese rice, I always get asked about the best brands to get, whether rice grown in Japan is worth the extra cost, and so on. Here’s what I recommend, depending on where you live. continue reading...

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How to take care of your rice cooker (video)

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A handy video from a top rice cooker maker shows how to take care of your rice cooker. continue reading...

Japanese Cooking 101, Lesson 2 Bonus: Sushi Rice (Shari) plus Smoked Salmon and Cucumber Chirashizushi

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Once you know how to cook perfect Japanese style rice, sushi rice is a snap. continue reading...

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Japanese Cooking 101, Lesson 2: Prep and Cook A Great Bowl of Japanese Rice

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A perfectly steamed bowl of plain rice is the unquestioned star of a Japanese meal. And here’s how to cook it, in copious detail - in Lesson 2 of Japanese Cooking 101: The Fundamentals of Washoku. continue reading...

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How to cook perfect rice - in a frying pan

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Here’s how to cook rice quickly and easily using a regular old non-stick frying pan. It’s so easy and foolproof you won’t believe it! continue reading...

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Homemade mochi (pounded rice) the modern way

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How to make fresh mochi, or pounded rice, at home, with ease, and without a mochi making machine. continue reading...

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Shinmai (new harvest rice) and onigiri article in the Japan Times

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I have a new article in today’s edition of The Japan Times, available online here, or in the print edition. continue reading...

Perfect fried rice in a frying pan - even on an electric range or hotplate

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So you love fried rice, but don’t have a wok, or even a gas range? Here’s how to make great fried rice with a frying pan, even if it’s on an electric hotplate. (Note: this is not a low carb dish.) continue reading...

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Nanakusagayu: Seven greens rice porridge to rest the feast-weary belly

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The more I study old Japanese customs, the more I am impressed by the logical thinking behind many of them, even when examined with modern eyes. One of these the custom of partaking of a bowl of nanakusagayu on the seventh day of the New Year, which supposedly started in the Heian Period (around the 12th century), in the refined court of Kyoto. Nanakusa means seven greens, and kayu (or to use the honorific term, okayu (お粥)), is rice porridge. The Imperial Court, now in Tokyo, still has a nanakusagayu ceremony on the morning of January 7th. continue reading...

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Shell-shaped sushi (Hamaguri-zushi) for Girls' Festival

From the archives, originally posted March 2, 2007. These delicately colored sushi are a great way to use usuyaki tamago. I know I’ve been re-posting things from the archives a lot lately, but I hope you’ll forgive me - I’m moving tomorrow! In any case, I hope you’ll give these delicate sushi a try, especially if you have daughters or granddaughters.

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The 3rd of March is Momo no sekku or Peach Day in Japan. Peach blossoms usually start blooming around this time, signifying the coming of spring. It’s also the day for hina matsuri, the Doll Festival or Girls’ Festival. Households with daughters display hina ningyou-, traditional dolls that represent a princess’s wedding procession. This is because the ultimate happiness expected for a girl was for her to make a fruitful and comfortable marriage. Nowadays girls may be expected to do other things besides become happy wives, but on this day at least traditions still hold strong.

In Japan there is a long standing stereotype that girls and women like very sweet things, while manly men like less sweet and bitter things. So, for Hina Matsuri the guests are served sweet things like amazake (a very thick non-alcoholic hot drink made from the lees of sake, rather like eggnog in color and cloying sweetness), hishimochi (tri-colored mochi cake) and okoshi (colored sweetened puffed rice). Although there were three girls in our house, none of us liked amazake at all. However, my mother often made some kind of sushi for Hina Matsuri, which we really loved.

Here are two kinds of very pretty, girlie sushi in feminine pink, yellow and white with a touch of green. These colors fit the theme of Hina Matsuri perfectly: the traditional hishimochi is colored white, pink (or light red) and green. continue reading...

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Japanese Basics: How to make Japanese-style plain rice and sushi rice

Update: I've updated this post substantially in these two articles, 10 years later: How to cook great Japanese style rice, and How to make sushi rice (shari). Please take a look there - you'll probably find them a lot clearer. I've learned a lot myself in 10 years! ^_^

This is the first how-to and recipe that I posted on Just Hungry. Properly cooked rice is the foundation of a traditional Japanese meal, and you absolutely cannot skimp on the steps detailed here if you are aiming for anything approaching authenticity. I've edited the text to make some things clearer. Back to basics! Originally published in November 2003.

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Rice is the staple of Japanese food, and making it just right can be rather difficult if you don't know how. If you think you will be preparing rice regularly, an electric rice cooker will make your life so much easier. You can cook non-Japanese style rice in it too, though I tend to make those in a regular pan. continue reading...

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Moffles

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How to make moffles or mochi waffles, a relatively new but very popular snack in Japan, in a regular waffle maker. continue reading...

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Botamochi for spring, Ohagi for fall: Sweet Japanese rice and bean cakes

[From the archives: Today (September 23rd) is the first day of the fall o-higan (お彼岸), when ohagi or botamochi are offered to ones ancestors, as well as oneself! My mother and my grandmother always made these at home around this time of year - I love their not-too-sweet stickiness. O-higan ends on the 26th, so if you like wagashi, why not give these a try? Originally published March 2007.]

botamochi1.sidebar.jpgThe seven days centered around the bi-annual days of the vernal equinox is a Buddhist festival period known as higan (or o-higan for the honorific term) in Japan. The fall (autumn) higan is aki no higan, and the spring higan is haru no higan. Since the day of the spring equinox is March 21, we’re about to enter the haru no ohigan period.

During haru no higan, a sweet confection called botamochi is eaten. The mochi part means sticky, pounded rice, and the bota part comes from botan, or the tree peony. Botamochi is supposed to ressemble a tree peony flower.

During the autumn equinox (aki no higan or simply (o)higan)) period, a very similar confection called ohagi is eaten. This is supposed to look like a hagi or bush clover flower (Latin: Lespedeza thunbergii). Botamochi and o-hagi look the same to me, even though a hagi flower looks nothing like a tree peony flower, but the good old ancestors were probably a lot more imaginative than I am.

Botamochi and o-hagi are made of sticky rice and sweet tsubuan, ‘chunky-style’ sweet azuki bean paste. They are a bit fiddly to make but not difficult, especially if you use one of my favorite cooking helpers, plastic cling film. Since these are best eaten freshly made, it’s well worth the effort to make them at home if you like bean-based Japanese sweets. You can adjust the amount of sugar in the tsubuan to your taste. Here I have made three variations: coated with black sesame seeds; coated with kinako (toasted soy bean powder); and the most traditional form with the rice cake wrapped in a layer of the tsubuan. continue reading...

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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. continue reading...

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How to cook bamboo shoots (takenoko)

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There are two Japanese vegetables that I can’t get fresh here that I miss very much. One is burdock root or gobo; the other is bamboo shoot or takenoko (竹の子 or 筍). Bamboo shoots are very much a spring-only vegetable, much like asparagus, so around this time of year I always get a craving for the crunch and subtle flavor. continue reading...

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Zakkokumai: Rice with seeds and grains and bits

[Update:] There seems to be some confusion about how zakkokumai is cooked and looks like, so I’ve added some more photos and such.

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Rice is such an integral part of a Japanese meal, that the word for ‘meal’ (gohan, ご飯) also means rice. White rice is the norm, both for taste and for various cultural reasons. But as you probably know, white rice (hakumai, 白米) is rice that has been stripped of most of its nutrients, leaving just the starch.

Brown rice (genmai) is the obvious healthier alternative. But brown rice can take some time to cook, what with the soaking and so on that’s needed, and some people simply don’t like the taste or texture.

In recent years, something called zakkoku-mai (雑穀米)has become increasingly popular in Japan. Zakkoku just means “mixed grains”, and mai is rice. Another name for essentially the same thing is kokumotsu gohan (穀物ご飯). continue reading...

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Brown rice and green tea porridge (genmai chagayu)

genmai-chagayu.jpgA traditional custom in Japan is to eat nanakusa gayu, or seven greens rice porridge, after the New Year’s feasting period, to rest the stomach and bring the body back into balance. At any time of the year, kayu or okayu are eaten when the body is weakened by sickness, fatigue or overeating.

Chagayu or tea rice porridge is a speciality of the ancient city of Nara and the surrounding area. (Nara was briefly the capital of Japan in the 7th century, and is one of the most historical cities in the country). Chagayu is usually made with white rice, but I used brown rice (genmai) instead, plus a small amount of firm green puy lentils from France. The lentils are not traditional, but I like the contrasting texture.

This has been my breakfast for about a week now. It’s not in the same category as eggs and bacon or a stack of pancakes, but I find my body needs something like this sometimes to bring it back into balance. It’s filling and warming, yet feels very cleansing to the body. A cup of this has less than 100 calories, and is high in fiber. continue reading...

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Answering some rice cooker questions

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A few readers have emailed me recently about rice cookers by coincidence. So I thought I would put my answers here for everyone’s benefit. continue reading...

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Japanese-style vegan mushroom rice: Kinoko no takikomi gohan revisited

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The very first full recipe I posted on Just Hungry almost 4 years ago was Mushroom Rice (kinoko no takikomi gohan), and it still gets a lot of visits and comments, even though there’s no photo to whet the reader’s appetite or anything.

The original recipe called for traditional dashi stock made from bonito (fish) flakes, and suggested adding chicken and other things.

This version is a lot simpler to assemble and it’s all vegan, but it’s just as tasty. And it comes with a photo! (My early photos on the site are pretty awful. I like to think I’ve learned a little since then.) I am using this in an upcoming bento, but it’s good for regular dinner too, so it’s posted here. It’s actually the best when it’s freshly made - the aroma of the mushrooms fills the kitchen, quite irresistible if you love mushrooms as I do. It is a very autumn (fall) kind of dish.

I think that this dish reflects my changing tastes and eating habits too, not to mention how I approach writing for Just Hungry, too. 4 years ago, I wasn’t that worried about health issues or anything of that nature in regards to food. Now, I am rather proud that I have a tasty dish that is sugar-free, gluten-free (if you use a gluten-free soy sauce), and vegan! I feel a bit trendy. continue reading...

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Smoked salmon temari zushi: Ball-shaped sushi

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Following up on the previous recipe for shell shaped sushi, here is another kind of sushi that’s great for parties. Temari are small cloth balls made from leftover scraps of kimono fabric, and temari zushi are meant to look like these colorful toys.

You can make temari zushi with any number of things, such as thinly sliced sashimi grade fish, boiled and butterflied shrimp, thinly sliced and cooked or uncooked vegetables, and even thin slices of cheese. You will likely never see temari zushi at a sushi restaurant - this is homey home-style sushi.

For these, I’ve used thinly cut slices of pale pink smoked salmon, with tiny amount of cream cheese inside, rather in the same vein as a New York Roll - quite non-traditional but it’s a great combination. The key is to make the temari zushi on the small side since they are quite rich. continue reading...

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Japanese Dry Curry

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While the standard curry dish in Japan is a kind of curry stew served on plain rice, dry curry, which is a sort of fried rice with curry flavor, is almost as popular. And unlike the stew-type of Curry Rice it’s very fast and easy to put together.

What makes it Japanese really is the use of japonica (medium-grain) rice. Dry curry made with Japanese rice makes a great obento lunch, tasty at room temperature or warmed up in the microwave. The stick-together moist quality of the rice keeps it edible where a dryer stay-apart rice like basmati might taste too dry. Dry curry also has the mixture of sweet and savory, which appears quite a lot in Japanese food, especially the kind that comes from the Kanto (Tokyo-area) region where my family is from. continue reading...

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Dry curry

Dry curry

Japanese beef curry (Curry Rice)

Beef curry (Japanese style)

Japanese curry belongs to the group of typically Japanese foods that have origins in European cuisine, called yohshoku. Curry is tremendously popular in Japan - it's on the menu at just about every 'family' restaurant and department store restaurants, and there are curry-only restaurants as well as ones that specialize in high class yohshoku in general.

Japanese curry, called curry rice (or kareh raisu) since it's always served with rice, is not much like the curries from India, Thai or other places with better known curries around the world. The best way to describe it is probably to say it's like a English style stew with curry. (It's not at all like the curries you get in modern Britain, which are firmly in the Indian or Pakistani curry families.)

beefcurry_closeup1.sidebar.jpgIf you've ever been to a Japanese grocery store, you've probably seen the blocks or bags of curry base taking up an inordinate amount of shelf space. Competition amongst curry base makers in Japan is fierce. The bases are pretty convenient to use, but these days I use them less and less, since I discovered that making curry properly from scratch is not that much more effort than making curry with a readymade curry base. Commercial curry bases contain things like sugar or corn syrup as ingredients, plus some of them use mystery fats (always check the ingredient lists). I add sweetness just via the vegetables, especially a huge mound of slowly sautéed onions.

Either way, to get the most flavorful curry takes a long time. This is definitely a slow-cook meal.

This recipe for beef curry can be adapted to other kinds of meat, or to vegetarian options too. I've included instructions for using a store bought curry base as well as making your own curry roux base. continue reading...

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More about onigiri: keeping them fresh and more

In a comment to my Onigiri Revisited post, Jennifer said:

I’ve made fresh onigiri a number of times and would love to be able to make it the night before and take into work with me the next day. How do I do that? (or am I out of luck?) The rice gets all hard and I’ve tried sprinkling water on it in the microwave, but then it falls apart. Suggestions? Do I need a special type of rice? How do I store it after it is made?

Onigiri really are better if made the morning of the day you’re going to eat them. I remember my mom waking up very early in the morning to make onigiri when we had a school outing (which usually meant an obento lunch with onigiri).

That being said, you can make them the night before, but you need to take some measures. There are a few things you can do to have moist (but not wet) rice balls. continue reading...

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Basics: Cooking Japanese style brown rice on the stovetop in a pot

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As part of my weight loss efforts, not to mention generally trying to 'eat better', flirting with 'makurobi' (the Japanese word for macrobiotic, and also meaning a 'hipper' version of macrobiotic cooking) and such, I've been cooking more brown rice as opposed to polished white rice. Fortunately my rice cooker has a gen-mai (brown rice) cooking setting.

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Looking at rice

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(I've updated this very popular post with some info about germ rice (haiga-mai) and sprouted brown rice (hatsuga genmai). In case you missed it the first time around, here it is again in your RSS reader and on the front page.)

Rice is a big part of my food life. While I do like other kinds of carbohydrates, especially good bread and pasta, rice is definitely my favorite. I usually have on hand several different kinds of rice, each with a different use. Here are the ones I have in the pantry right now that I use in everyday cooking. continue reading...

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Japanese basics: Osekihan (Sekihan), Festive Japanese Red Rice and Beans

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I haven't posted a basic Japanese recipe here in quite a while, so it's about time I did again! The main basic here is the method for cooking sweet rice. continue reading...

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Masterchef challenge day 21: Anchovy bread pudding, Lamb Bourgignon, Barley Pilaf and Braised Swiss Chard Stems

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I almost gave up on continuing the Masterchef challenge when it was revealed that for the final week of preliminaries, they were going to make the candidates do two dishes within 50 minutes, instead of one dish in 40 minutes. The reason for this is that this week's candidates are also-rans from last season, who were invited back because they demonstrated potential. continue reading...

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Masterchef challenge, day 10: Vegetable and Mussel Risotto

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It's day 10 of MasterChef, and the ingredients were: continue reading...

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MasterChef challenge, day 4: Lamb Pilau with Beet and Kumquat Chutney

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First off, I must apologize for this picture and the placement of the chutney on the plate. I didn't realize until all the food was consumed, thus making it too late for a re-shoot, that it looks like Mickey Mouse had a very unfortunate accident and got his brains shot out. continue reading...

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New rice and pickled plum

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My mother recently sent me a huge bag of shinmai from Japan. Shinmai is literally new rice, rice that was harvested this season. It really tastes wonderful; there is very little nuka (rice powder) around it, and when it's cooked, each grain seems to glisten. continue reading...

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Inarizushi: sushi in a bean bag

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Note: This article has been substantially improved and updated here, but I'm leaving this original as-is for the simpler approach using canned skins.

[Another update: Lower-calorie inarizushi filled with a mixture of rice and hijiki seaweed continue reading...

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Temple Food II: Zohsui (Japanese rice soup)

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Continuing on the theme of temple food - simple, easy to digest food that is gentle on the stomach and the soul - here is zohsui, or ojiya. Where I grew up, we called it ojiya, which is considered a more vulgar term. Whatever you call it, it's essentially a soup made of rice, various aromatic vegetables, egg, and sometimes some seafood or chicken. It's closely related to Chinese congee. continue reading...

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Saltimbocca and risotto

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Ochazuke, rice with tea

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ochazuke is rice, tea and a lot of very Japanese stuff.

Ochazuke combines two quintessentially Japanese ingredients, plain white rice and green tea. Ochazuke is commonly served at the very end of an elaborate Japanese full course meal. It's also favored as a midnight snack, a hangover cure, or just when you want something hot and filling. It's commonly made with leftover rice, though ideally the rice should be heated up if it's cold. continue reading...

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Handrolled sushi

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Onigiri (rice balls)

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[Update:] Be sure to check out my easier, neater way to make onigiri!

Onigiri are rice balls, usually with a tasty filling. They are very portable, and therefore are very popular for carry-along lunches. Part of their appeal lies in the fact that if you're Japanese, you just love the taste of rice. It's genetic. [Edit: another word for onigiri is omusubi. I guess it just depends on what word you grew up with. In our house it was always onigiri.]

Onigiri can stand on their own, or be part of a bento or boxed lunch. (For some reason it's never just called "nigiri", though bento is also called obento, which is the honorific term.) Onigiri are also a great make-ahead snack for a crowd, since with the appropriate fillings they keep rather well. I remember my aunt making 12-cups of rice worth of onigiri at a time for the large family gatherings at New Year's or Obon (August festival to pay respect to our ancestors). Her hands would be bright red from the heat of the rice. She favored salted salmon (shio zake) as the filling usually - very salty salmon in fact.

Onigiri is also one of my top comfort foods. It reminds me of the ones my mother used to make for me for school outings (ensoku) as well as countless school lunches. When we stayed at my grandmother's and my cousines and I would take trips to the Chichibu mountain area, my aunt would make huge rice balls to assuage our appetites. There's a comforting feeling of continuity with history too, because Japanese travelers have sustained themselves on those salty rice balls for hundreds of years.

Like obento boxed lunches, onigiri can be elaborate creations, but the simple versions the are best in my opinion. We often bring some onigiri with us on long train trips: it's a lot better than buying the overpriced sandwich buns from the vending carts. Yes, sometimes people look at us curiously as we bite into those soccer-ball colored balls. We don't care one bit.

While I was working on writing up this entry, I came across this post by Mimi Ito . Japanese people have a lot of emotional attachment to obento, and to onigiri too. continue reading...

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Mushroom rice

Fall is the season for wild mushrooms. We can get mushrooms all year round now of course, but the wild variety are at their best when the fungi can draw lots of nice nutrients from the rotting leaves and wood that is lying around.

Fungi are a strange thing. They feast on decay. All plant material draw energy to grow from their decayed ancestors, but fungi are the only things that draw all of their energy from this source. And, the more they can suck up, the more flavorful they seem to be.

Truffles for instance, are so greedy that they don't even raise their heads out of the earth, until their are sniffed out by pigs or dogs. (Allegedly, virgins can also detect truffles.) I was quite sceptical about the reputation enjoyed by the truffle, until the day I actually had one, a real one, not just truffle oil or the microscopic specks of truffle that are allegedly in some canned patés. This was a real truffle, sliced into bold chunks and baked inside a dish modestly called a galette de pommes (potato cake) on the menu of the Beurehiesel in Stransbourg. (The Buerehiesel is a 3-star Michelin establishment, and our favorite restaurant right now. It will be mentioned many times in this blog I'm sure.) The wonderful fragrance of the truffle permeated the potato cake and made it something out of this world.

While we can't afford truffles on a regular basis, we can enjoy wild mushrooms. One of our favorite ways of enjoying a delightfully smelly bag of mixed fungi is simply cooked in our trusty rice cooker with a basic dashi stock. It can be assembled in no time, and then you just wait for your kitchen to be filled with the fragrance of the 'shrooms. It's low-fat too. continue reading...

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