with Elizabeth Andoh 

The word gohan means both “meal” and “rice” which indicates just how important it is to the Japanese. There is a different word, okome, used to describe raw rice.

If you buy your rice at a supermarket or other large store, they probably won’t deliver. The average okome-ya-san (Mr. Rice Store) will deliver, even for small orders, so it might prove helpful to ask your neighbor who the local okome-ya-san is.

There are many grades and qualities of rice and as you become more of a connoiseur you’ll prob­ably want and appreciate the higher quality. But for beginners, I suggest a medium grade—prob­ably priced around ¥500-600 for a two kilo bag. The kind of rice that has little bright yellow grains scattered throughout is vitamin enriched. The yellow grains are called “bita lisu” (vita rice). They become indistinguishable after cooking and don’t really alter the taste or appearance greatly. For everyday consumption, then, it would be advisable to purchase bita lisu iri no okome (vita­min enriched rice).

There must be hundreds, if not thousands, of rice recipes, but they can be placed in approximately three categories: (1) the kind where other things are cooked with the rice (known as taki-awase or taki-komi) (2) the kind where other ingredients are placed on top of cooked plain rice (known as gohan-kake) and (3) the kind where other ingredients are mixed with already cooked plain rice (known as maze-awase).

Some recipes combine two or more of these approaches. Today’s recipes will be for plain (basic) white rice, mugi gohan (barley rice) and yasai maze-awase (vegetable mixed combination). Let’s start with some general principles, sugges­tions and comments on cooking rice without a rice cooker:

—use a heavy (sturdy) pot with straight sides and a tight fitting lid

—avoid removing the lid during the cooking pro­cess except when absolutely necessary

—after the cooking process is finished, the rice should be left, undisturbed, for 10-15 minutes before scooping out

—wet the shamoji (wooden rice paddle) and shake it dry before using to scoop out the rice

—to avoid scrubbing later, soak the pot in plain water as soon after using as possible; allow at least 30 minutes of soaking before washing

* about measuring rice and water…

—greater quantities of rice are easier to cook than scant ones; never make less than 1 cup

—for four regular servings of cooked rice, figure at least 2 Japanese cups (400 c.c.) or 1 and 3/4 American cups of raw rice

—water (after washing) should be at least 15% and probably no more than 20% more than you have measured rice. (i.e. for the above, 460-480 c.c. water or approx. 2 cups American

* about washing rice…

—there are many theories. I follow the one that says rinse and swish and drain until the water is almost clear (or about 2-3 times with above quantities). There’s a lot of rice dust and pos­sibly small pebbles mixed in with the rice

—measure out raw rice and cover barely with cold water

—swish it around, hold hand over rim (to keep back rice) and drain out whitish water. Repeat until water is almost clear

* about cooking…

—use high heat until the rice-water bubbles (approx. 5-6 minutes, but a lot depends on quantity, size and shape of pot etc.)

—turn down to medium heat until almost all of the water has been absorbed into the rice (ap­prox. 10 minutes, but same caution as above)

—turn up to high heat for a few seconds to “dry off” the rice, then turn off heat and keep lid firmly in place to allow the rice to “steam” itself for about 10 minutes.

* a word about rice-cookers…

—they are a great convenience (no problems with timing and measuring and they don’t take up valuable gas range space) and there are electric and gas varieties

—they usually come with a measuring cup (in c.c.’s) and the inside cooking surface is marked with ladder-like water level markings. The numbers refer to the number of cups (in c.c.’s) of raw rice; lines immediately below numbers indicate the right amount of water for “dry” rice and lines immediately above numbers indi­cate the right amount of water for “moist” rice. Water exactly to the number marking is for “regular” rice.

—NEVER immerse the entire cooker in water— only the removable inner bowl (on which the water-level markings are written). After using, these should be soaked to avoid heavy scrubbing.

MUGI GOHAN (barley rice—4 servings)


  • 3/4 cup mugi
  • 1 cup raw rice
  • 2 cups and 2 table­spoons water
  • dry-roasted white sesame seeds; 1-2 tablespoons


1. Wash rice and mugi separately, but in the same manner.

2. Combine mugi and rice add water. Cook the same as for plain white rice.

3. Serve in individual bowls. Sprinkle dry roast­ed sesame seeds on top.


1. Mugi is barley (or sometimes the word is used to refer to wheat) and a one kilo bag of Vita Barley is in the flour section of most supermarkets and costs about ¥150.

2. Goma is sesame seed; shiro goma is white sesame seed. Small bags are sold in most grocery stores. Buy the unroasted kind and roast them yourself for full aroma:

—heat a heavy metal pot or pan

—add sesame seeds and gently shake and swirl over fairly high heat (but be careful not to burn the seeds—keep the pan moving

—continue until color changes slightly and few seeds begin to pop

YASAI NIMONO (braised vegetables—good as a side dish, or mixed and tossed with 4 servings of cooked rice)


  • 2-3 dried shiitake (soaked in warm water to barely cover, with a pinch of sugar added, until soft) about 15 mins.
  • ninjin (carrot) — about 1/2
  • takenoko (bamboo shoot) — about 1-small, canned
  • nijiru: 1 1/2 cups dashi
    3  tablespoons sugar
    4  tablespoons shoyu
    3 teaspoons sake
    a splash of mirin (optional)


1. Either thinly slice or dice all vegetables.

2. Combine 1/2 cup of the dashi, 1 tablespoon of the sugar, 2 tablespoons of the shoyu and 1 teaspoon of the sake in a saucepan. Heat until the sugar has dissolved. Then add cut shiitake and braise over medium heat until braising liquid (nijiru) is half gone. Use an otoshi buta (“dropped lid”) to insure even braising.

3. Remove braised shiitake and add 1/2 cup more dashi, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 tablespoon shoyu, 1 teaspoon sake. Add cut takenoko and braise with otoshi buta until nijiru is half gone.

4. Remove takenoko and add 1/4 cup dashi, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 tablespoon shoyu and 1 teaspoon sake. Add cut carrots and braise (covered with otoshi buta) until nijiru is half gone.

5. Return previously removed shiitake and take­noko to the carrots and continue braising (with otoshi buta) until nijiru is almost gone. Add a splash of mirin (optional) to “glaze” the vegetables just before turning off heat. Toss to mix well.

6. Toss the braised vegetables gently but thoroughly with already cooked plain hot rice (made from cup raw rice)—or serve as a side dish of vegetables.


Mirin is sweet rice wine, used for glazing and in marinades. Sold in all grocery stores or supermarkets.