Rice, It’s Importance to the Japanese Diet
Rice has had a long, rich history in Japan, and even as times and trends change, rice will continue to play a part in Japanese culture and cuisine. Traditionally, rice has been an important part of the Japanese diet. Since its introduction to Japan more than 2000 years ago, rice has become the staple grain of this island nation. Rice grows well in Japan's climate, and the annual rituals of sowing, transplanting, weeding and harvesting follow the seasons. Rice also offers good nutrition. It contains protein and carbohydrates, and contributes a filling element to every meal. For many centuries, rice was also used as currency in Japan. Rice has become the backbone of everyday life in Japan. It is made into rice cakes for dessert, crackers for snacks and is present at almost every meal. Well-known for their frugal practices, the Japanese even use the rice straw to make ropes, sandals, mats and more. Rice has become an integral part of Japan's identity.
Different Types of Rice
The traditional japonica, or sticky rice of Japan is still the most popular choice. While brown rice, or genmai (pronounced gehn-mi) is more nutritious than white rice, or hakumai (pronounced hah-koo-mi), white rice has been seen as more sophisticated, and so is more desirable than its nutty-flavored alternative. The Japanese also use mochi rice (pronounced moe-chee), which is even stickier than conventional Japanese rice. It is used to make rice cakes and desserts. They also use black rice and red rice in Japan, and in a somewhat new twist, some people are blending different rice varieties together or adding other grains like millet to their rice dishes.
How Rice is Used in Japan
Traditionally, plain rice has been eaten at every meal, usually being served at the end as a small, yet important part. The exception to this rule is donburi, where meat and vegetables are served on top of the rice in a bowl. Besides eating rice at meals, it is ground and made into flour that is used for baking and many other items. Rice is also fermented and made into sake and mirin, two different types of rice wine. Mirin is used in cooking, while sake comes in as many different labels and flavors as grape wines do in the United States. Most Japanese homes have a rice maker in the kitchen to get the best tasting rice possible.
One popular way rice is utilized is to make onigiri (pronounced oh-nee-gee-ree). This traditional rice ball is the perfect food to go. It is usually filled with pickled plums, bonito flakes mixed with soy sauce or miso, bean paste or whatever else sounds good to the cook. The rice ball is then rolled in sesame seeds or wrapped in a sheet of nori (seaweed). Another way to use rice is to mix it with whatever ingredients are fresh and available. This is called kayaku gohan (pronounced kai-yah-koo go-han). This dish is served as both a main dish and as a side dish. Sushi, which translates to "vinegar rice", is another favorite. The rice is cooked in sushi vinegar and then combined with fish, squid, vegetables and nori, usually in the form of bite-sized rolls. Chazuke is another specialty in Japan. This dish consists of cooked rice and green tea.