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All About White Rice

If you’ve actually got a taste for Japanese-style short-grain white rice, here’s what years of experimentation have taught Akemi and I: Most of what you find in a US West Coast supermarket is junk.

The best readily-available rice on the West Coast is Lundberg Organic Sushi rice (also sold in bulk), but even that is only decent. If, however, you can find a well-stocked Asian market, Tamanishiki (comes in a yellow bag) is the best stuff—not going to stand up to the best stuff in Japan, but it’s even up to snuff by Japanese standards (H-mart, a Korean supermarket chain with locations all over the US, carries it, for example). It will also run you about $25 for a 15-pound bag, and is as far as I’ve seen the most expensive of the common high-end brands. You get what you pay for, I guess. (You can order a bag through Amazon, amusingly, although shipping will run you $17: Tamanishiki, 15 lbs.)

Also keep your eye out for “New Crop” stickers—the bag gets those when it’s fresh and starchier, which is to say better by Japanese standards.

If you’re looking for a step up even from that, I have seen, in San Francisco’s small Japanese district, several house-brand, small-bag organic versions of more common brands. That’s the only place I ever saw them, and I didn’t try one because they were twice the price of anything else and the penny pincher in the family vetoed it.

Rice quality is a touchy subject among Japanese and aficionados of Japanese food. Up through meeting Akemi, I was under the impression that rice was rice. It took a few years of demonstration otherwise before I eventually developed my taste to the point that not only was long-grain white rice entirely unpalatable (dry and bland) unless it’s being fried or otherwise seasoned, I could tell the difference between low, medium, and high-quality short-grain (aka Calrose), Japanese-style rice. Japanese people, of course, have been doing the same thing since birth, so their pickiness is that much worse. I’ve sampled a pretty wide range of quality, including the privilege of a small annual bag of fresh, hand-picked, farmers’ special straight from the fields in Japan, on account of there being some old-timer rice farmers in the extended family—now that is good stuff.

On the plus side, I can now properly appreciate a super-premium product like that on a more-than-conceptual level. On the minus, I can no longer stand “cheap” rice, into which category a surprising amount of Asian restaurant rice falls. Oh well; thus is the price of being a connoisseur/food snob.

Pro tips: The biggest sign of quality in white rice is how it tastes on the second day; the better the rice, the fresher it seems when reheated. Also, never refrigerate cooked rice—a chemical reaction occurs that turns it into a bowl of tiny rocks. Surprisingly, though, it will keep for at least a day, probably two or three, out of the fridge, so long as your house isn’t too warm; freezing it also works quite well. When reheating rice (particularly if it’s been frozen), sprinkle a bit of water on it, cover, and microwave—this basically re-cooks it to restore the texture to a pretty good approximation of when it was fresh. It won’t help much with refrigerated rice, but it’s better than throwing it out.

The easiest way to cook rice is to get a standalone electric rice cooker. The fanciest Japanese ones use all manner of crazy technology—fuzzy logic control schemes, inductive heating, triple-Teflon-coated bowls, and Lord knows what else—and of course have a price to match (not unusual to see them costing into the $200 range). That’s all fine and dandy, but really, the budget $20 crock-pot-style cookers at your local K-Mart will get the job done with a minimum of hassle. At worst they’re likely to burn a little of the rice to the bottom.

Any rice cooker will also come with a measuring cup and have markings on the side so that you can easily determine how much water to put in for a given number of cups of rice. This is probably obvious, but keep in mind that one dry cup of rice expands into a considerably larger amount of cooked rice—about three times as much. (Interestingly, “rice cooker cups” used when measuring dry rice are generally standardized at 180ml, which is smaller than both a US cup, which is 240ml, and a Japanese cup, which is 200ml; this is a leftover of an archaic unit of Japanese measurement, Gou. The only other thing now measured in that unit is sake. Fortunately, if the water level marks on a rice cooker are designed for these cups, it will always include a properly-sized measuring cup.)

A few cooking tips: While you don’t need to wash rice, the Japanese almost always do—at least two rinses in my family. With less-fresh rice—which is to say anything not labeled “New Crop”—it’ll come out better if you let it sit in the water for about 45 minutes before you start it cooking. You probably also want to add a little more water than the rice cooker tells you to, or it may be on the firm side.

Incidentally, don’t take this to mean we don’t appreciate brown rice. Whatever culinary purpose white rice serves, brown rice (which hasn’t had the outer shell removed) is drastically healthier than white. Indeed, you can very nearly live on brown rice, while white rice—as Japanese sailors discovered the hard way in centuries past—lacks several essential nutrients. Countless men in the Japanese Navy died from Beriberi, a neurological disease with a funny name that’s a lot better known in Japan than elsewhere for exactly this reason—it’s caused by thiamine deficiency, which could have been prevented by eating whole rice instead of processed white stuff. The funny name isn’t Japanese by the way—it’s called Kakke in Japanese.

In fact, if you make onigiri—rice balls—with a 50/50 mix of short grain brown rice and white rice, they have an appealingly firm texture and are, if anything, even tastier. At worst, they’re unquestionably healthier than straight white.

6 Responses to “All About White Rice”

  1. Ghostwriter Says:

    I’m not sure how I feel about white rice but I’ve got a request for you,Marc and everyone else on this site. For a long time now,I’ve been interested in the portrayals of this country and it’s people in anime. I have three categories for those portrayals:positive,negative,and bizarre. I don’t really have to explain the positive and negative categories because they’re self-explanatory. The bizarre category is basically this:Any portrayal of the United States and it’s people that is strange or odd to a native-born American or someone who has lived in this country for any length of time.
    Some can be less strange like a demon/alien invasion of the US or any genre of anime or manga that is set in this country. Others can be so strange that it is doubtful that even the people who made the show think that it’s out there.

    Here are my examples of all three categories:

    Positive:”Gunsmith Cats,””Kaleido Star.”
    Negative:The “Ghost in the Shell” franchise,”Silent Service.”
    Bizarre:”Baccano!,””Chrono Crusade.”

    Now that you know my examples,what are your choices for these categories?

  2. Marc Says:

    Funny, even of the stuff you mention, I’d have categorized things differently. Gunsmith Cats I’ll give you, although it certainly throws itself all-in to the popular image of America as a country with a rocket launcher in every glove compartment. The opening episode of Eden of the East is set in Washington DC, and it’s quite realistic–they even got English voice actors who sound black to voice the black characters. It’s weird, sure, but then so is the entire concept of the show. 8 Man After, which I happen to have just watched, is set in New York, and while its new york of the future is a cyberpsycho-infested hell, it is Cyberpunk so that’s not exactly out of character for the genre, and it’s otherwise a not-entirely-embarassing portrayal given the material.

    Ghost in the Shell, however, portrays the US as no better or worse than the Japanese government, which is hardly treated kindly–it’s a gritty story about a believable near-future trajectory, and given the US’s international policies and behavior in real life nothing said or implied in that franchise would be hard to extrapolate from current events. Not saying Shriow doesn’t have a bit of jingoistic nationalist fervor in that “24″ kind of way, but the portrayal of foreign countries isn’t notably negative.

    As for bizarre, yes, there are plenty. Some are just weird, some are flat-out silly. That comes of writing things about a country you’ve probably never seen outside of movies, in most cases, and in some cases not caring–you’re more interested in the story, and the setting is just a convenient label.

    On the same line, I will note that almost none are any worse than even entirely straight-faced Hollywood movies in their depiction of less-well-traveled foreign countries, Japan high on the list. Black Rain, for example, was pretending to be realistic, but looked like a surrealist cyberpunk version of Japan–The Grudge remake was more realistic.

    Baccano!, though, what on earth do you have that in the bizarre category for? The entire show is pretty cracked, but the portrayal of the US specifically is almost straight ’30s noir/gangster film. None of the straight gangland scenes (when Issac and Miria aren’t messing things up) would be out of place in any number of Hollywood mafia films. The whole thing is sort of a screwed-up Godfather homage, in a way (if all the Italian immigrants had been immortal alchemists, that is–it’s easy to forget that a lot of the cast were originally Italian). Again, not saying the show itself isn’t bizarre, just that its portrayal of America isn’t particularly so.

    An aside, I recently saw the opening episode of the second Hana Yori Dango live action drama, which takes place mostly in New York. On one hand, they filmed it on location. On the other, when you try to do an already hugely overblown shoujo drama in live action, what was plenty exaggerated on paper gets downright painful to watch. Of course, the same goes for any of the stuff in Japan, which isn’t exactly realistic either–I wanted to see the entire cast of Lord of the Flies with rose petals psychos die horribly.

    Speaking of J-Dramas, Karei-naru Ichizoku, a huge-scale period work that I watched recently, had some business dealings with the US during the ’60s as a sidelight in the plot. It was, interestingly, a sympathetic portrayal–the Japan of that era was just starting to climb out of its postwar hole, and the main character saw his company’s steel mills as a first step of the country entering the world stage as an equal player. His deals with US companies, as such, were something to have great pride in, although we saw little of it past that. (He had also studied abroad, and as such had a relatively Western worldview for the period.)

  3. Ghostwriter Says:

    I kinda see what you said but here are my reasons for putting the particular anime I did where I did. The reason I put “Gunsmith Cats” in the positive category because I didn’t feel alienated watching it. I read on a review of this show on Anime News Network was that it was interesting seeing a part of American culture through foreign eyes. It also had it’s humorous moments and it didn’t come at the American characters expense. It didn’t seem to think of Americans as vermin simply because they were of another culture.
    Also on a personal level,I lived in a suburb of Chicago for four years and I would go on field trips to the Museum of Science and Industry when I was a kid.

    The reason I put “Ghost in the Shell” in the negative category should almost be obvious. Instead of the United States of America,we have the “American Empire.” There isn’t a Vietnamese Empire,a Burmese Empire or an Iranian Empire in the show but the show’s creator makes America the de facto bad guy. To me,Masamune Shirow might have been watching too many Michael Moore movies. Also,just about every American who shows up in the show is a jerk,a villain,or some combination thereof.
    And to me,that’s a shame,because “Ghost in the Shell” deals with some interesting topics. He never thought to give Americans how they would feel about cyberization. Would it be a hot button issue,like illegal immigration or abortion is in our time? We don’t know. And sadly,Shirow and his show doesn’t give us that. And that’s my problem with “Ghost.” The show’s anti-Americanism undermines any goodwill it might engender.

    You thought that my selection of “Baccano!” was inappropriate. Think about this. Who in their right mind would attempt to mix gangsters with immortal alchemists who summon demons in Depression-era America? That would be strange enough. But to add the disjointed way the story is told and you’ll see what I mean. In a review of another show,I called “Baccano!,””a cross between ‘Full Metal Alchemist’ and ‘Chrono Crusade.’” From what little I know about the show,I think it’s an accurate statement.
    Also,I looked up “8-Man After.” The show wasn’t set in New York,the show was set in Tokyo. So,I ask again,which anime would you put in the three categories I set up?

  4. Marc Says:

    I sort of see where you’re coming from now, but you’re wrong. On the last two series you mentioned:

    Whatever you read that said 8 Man After was set in Tokyo was wrong. While the two main characters are Japanese, nearly everyone else is not, two major characters are black, every single sign or piece of paper in the background is in English, they drive on the right side of the street and left side of the car, the police uniforms are US standard (with the funky ’80s jackets, no less), the police cars are US style, and the city’s American football team features prominently in the plot. Now, I may have been wrong that it was set in New York–I double checked, and there are no recognizable landmarks, and they never give the city a name in the dub–but it’s unquestionably supposed to be the US. Chicago is actually a bit more likely, since there is an elevated train shown at one point.

    And when you say “What little I know about [Baccano!]“, are you implying that you haven’t actually seen it, or just that you haven’t read up on the background? Either way, you’re again confusing “strange plot” with “strange depiction of the US.” The Highlander (the original movie, not the anime) has immortal swordsmen wandering all over modern New York, and it isn’t a weird depiction of the US, just a fantasy story. Batman (including the new movies) feature a guy in a silly costume beating up bad people in sillier costumes in modern New York, but that’s not a strange depiction of the US, just a superhero fantasy. Twilight has sparkly vampires wandering around modern Oregon, but it’s just teenage fantasy. Boogiepop Phantom has soul-eating demons and even more disorienting narrative wandering around a small Japanese city, but it’s not a weird depiction of Japan, just a creatively told fantasy story. Heck, Durarara!! is set in the same world as Baccano!, but in modern Japan.

    Extending the logic of “Who in their right mind would attempt to mix gangsters with immortal alchemists who summon demons in Depression-era America?”, Batman, Hellboy, The Highlander, Twilight, Cthulu, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Read or Die, Boogiepop Phantom, Nadia, Sakura Wars, and pretty much every alternate history and/or vampire story ever told was created by someone not in their right mind. Which may be true, but I’m glad at least half of the above exist, because they’re awesome stories, regardless of setting.

    As for Ghost in the Shell, I think you’re confusing “depiction of the US” with “portrayal of US foreign policy extrapolated a few decades into the future based on current trajectory.” Entirely different things, in my opinion. And while you can certainly feel that it’s unfairly harsh, and nobody but Dick Cheney would argue that it’s positive, if you DON’T think that’s a realistic portrayal of somewhere the US could, in theory, end up in a few decades, then you’re either naive or not paying attention, because proxy empire building and heavy-handed foreign intervention is certainly nothing new for the US. Don’t forget, also, that the portrayal of the Japanese government as corrupt, uncaring, and with their hands in a number of very, very unpleasant schemes is a far more major theme in the whole thing, particularly 2nd Gig–it is, after all, the Japanese government that tries to get the Section 9 team killed surreptitiously as part of a cover-up.

    So it’s really just a pessimistic, somewhat jingoistic viewpoint on the direction of government and politics in general, not the US specifically. “24” in future Japan, if you will.

  5. Ghostwriter Says:

    I don’t really seem to mind the debate over whether “Ghost in the Shell” is anti-American or not. I guess I’m a more optimistic person about this country it seems and I don’t share Shirow’s or your pessimism about this country. Also,I admit I did go a little overboard with “Baccano!” I tend to forget that I’ve written stories before and have come up with more than my fair share of crazy ideas for stories.
    But you never answered my question. Which anime would you place in the positive,negative,and bizarre categories on how America and it’s people are portrayed? I also would like to hear from others about which anime they would place in those categories.

  6. ailblentyn Says:

    I think the thing is that fictionality complicates what it means for a representation to be (for example) “positive”. You can certainly say that Gunsmith Cats shows attraction to a certain idea of the U.S., but surely for its suitability as a cool, dangerous setting for a girls-and-guns /fantasy./
    Rally’s Chicago is a bracing, exciting place where the attractive fantasy ideal of a fast, free, adventurous life is possible… but you wouldn’t necessarily want to live there in /reality,/ right?