Sep 8, 2017
Why Rice is My Favorite Food and Could be Yours, too
I was thinking the other day about my favorite food and trying to figure out what it might be. I guess for some people, it's easy. They might say "pizza" or "the duck l'orange at that little hole-in-the-wall French Restaurant I go to." Having grown up both in the States and Japan, as well as having traveled many countries the world (and tasted quite a wide variety of cuisines), this question proved a little tough for me. But I did figure it out; what I finally settled on as my favorite food is that simple but important staple...
I eat it literally everyday (most of the time for multiple meals). I crave it. My body feels out of whack when I don't have it. I remember cursing the heavens when I was on a business trip in Seoul and none of the hotel buffets had rice in it (crazy to think that they wouldn't).
So yes, my favorite food is rice, and there is no more appropriate season to be talking about how amazing it is than now when rice harvest is just around the corner (I'm told 20 September is the magic day).
Now I'm exceedingly lucky because I recently moved out to Niigata. In addition to all of the other amazing things about this prefecture, it happens to be home to Japan's best rice of all, Koshihikari rice. Being out here has ensured that I have constant access to this delicious product as well as lending me a deeper appreciation for how difficult rice is to cultivate. Not only is the planting labor intensive, but the crop itself can be fickle--even if the crop produces high yields, the weight of it may cause the plant to collapse on itself and the other stalks around it like dominoes.
In spite of the difficulty of cultivating rice, it is so plentiful in Japan nowadays that it becomes easy to take it for granted. Still, what would Japanese cuisine be without rice?
Since harvest season is upon us, it's a good time to think about the best way to enjoy this rice. Here are my three favorites.
1) Onigiri: Ah yes, Japan's traditional on-the-go snack. Sure, it's evolved over time, but the basics are still the same--a lot of rice, a little seaweed, and maybe something inside. The "what's inside" is what has changed the most, and I've seen some unique offerings. My favorite onigiri comes from my new home in Niigata and consists of koshihikari rice (about double the amount that you would find in a convenience store) and locally caught salmon. Fantastic!
2) Donburi: I'm of the mind that you can take any food and make it better by putting it over rice. Bacon and eggs? Put it on top of rice with a little bit of crushed red pepper and tell me you haven't found your new favorite breakfast food. Like tacos? Put the ingredients on a bed of rice instead of in a tortilla and, voila, you have the popular Okinawan dish called Taco Rice. But my personal favorite donburi is one that comes around just for the summers and is only available at one place of which I am aware: Sukiya's Una-gyu donburi. Take the standard Sukiya beef bowl (my favorite fast food option) and throw unagi (eel) in with it...perfection. It's still on sale, but only for a short while longer.
3) On its own: Who says that rice can't be the star of the show? Sure, you can add a few things like nori (seaweed) or furikake to liven it up, but sometimes there is nothing better than just having a nice hot bowl of rice. Of course, I recommend Niigata koshihikari. While many supermarkets will have it available, you can also find several varieties of it for purchase on Amazon.jp (here's one example).
So as autumn harvest comes around, take a moment to reflect on one of Japan's most prized crops--you might find that it happens to be one of your favorite foods as well!
Hitting the books once again as a Ph.D. student in Niigata Prefecture. Although I've lived in Japan many years, life as a student in this country is a first.
Blessed Dad. Lucky Husband. Happy Gaijin (most of the time).