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One way to immerse yourself into another country's culture is to adopt their food. If you're interested in Japan, there's no better way to turn Japanese than to start with a diet of hot and fluffy, moist white rice at home. Rice has been cultivated across the country for over 2,000 years, and its significance to Japanese culture is no less important than the fact that it literally means "meal" in Japanese, and that it was once even used as currency.

So why do the Japanese love rice so much? Perhaps it's because rice is so versatile and can take so many forms. Or maybe it's because so many side dishes seem to go so well with rice, that you can never get tired of it, breakfast, lunch or dinner.

This month's Zojirushi recipes make up our Ichiju Sansai, a style of meal that most Japanese eat every single day. Consisting of a main dish, 2 side dishes, soup and a bowl of rice at the center of it all, the classic Ichiju Sansai is a perfectly balanced menu.

The most common type of rice used in the traditional Ichiju Sansai is short grain white rice, although brown rice is also popular. Another variation on the menu is takikomi gohan, the flavored rice that is cooked with a mixture of seasonal ingredients. Whichever type of rice you prefer, make sure your dishes match up with your rice when you plan it. What you are trying to create is the supporting cast of dishes that will perform perfectly with the real star of Ichiju Sansai-- the humble bowl of rice at the center.

When all the tastes are working well, each bite you take will crave a morsel of rice to go with it.

Although served as an appetizer in Western cuisine, the soup in the Ichiju Sansai is part of the main meal. Miso soup or a clear broth is served together with the rest of the dishes.

Our Recipe
SHRIMP BALL BROTH: Clear broth featuring kinusaya (snow pea), vegetables in season and shrimp. This is a classic soup found in many traditional style Japanese restaurants. Be sure to appreciate the many textures in the soup as well as the flavors.
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Being the main dish, ingredients with volume are usually used, such as meats, fish, poultry, tofu, eggs, etc.

Our Recipe
BAKED SEA BASS WITH YUZU PEPPER: Known to be a flavorful summer catch, our sea bass is simply broiled to retain its natural flavors. The aroma of yuzu and hot pepper helps to remove the fish's odor and further enhances its taste.

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Seasonal vegetables, potatoes, beans, mushrooms, seaweed, etc. are used, to add to the overall meal and supplement the main dish.

Our Recipe
EGGPLANT WITH MISO SAUCE: We use Japanese eggplants, which are different in size, shape and taste from its Western cousins. The deep flavors of the miso paste contrast sharply with the slightly spicy but relatively light-flavored sea bass.
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Always different in style from the other side dish, this one is usually blanched or pickled or dressed with sauces.

Our Recipe
CRAB & CUCUMBER SUNOMONO (JAPANESE SALAD): Our sunomono, or vinegary dish, uses seasonal cucumbers and crab, a popular combination. There are other varieties that pair cucumbers with seaweed or eggs.

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Tips for a Successful Ichiju Sansai

Everything starts with the rice in Japanese cuisine. Cook it right and every other dish follows.
Use seasonal ingredients. Foods taste best when in season and they're also less expensive.
Change the cooking style with every dish. Broil one dish for example, but deep fry another to get distinct flavors and textures for a variety of taste sensations.
Be conscious of the color of your ingredients when cooking. Being visually appealing is just as important as taste.
Our current rice cookers are categorized into 4 different systems.
Research and development has shown that to achieve our aim of cooking the best tasting rice in the most convenient way possible, we are left with multiple approaches to best reach our goal.
The difference in these system approaches not only influences cooking white rice,
but also brown rice, sushi rice, mixed rice, porridge, steam cook and many other functions
which have been added to our various models.
See all Zojirushi Rice Cookers

Gohan no Tomo, or "friends of rice", are various seasonings and condiments that go well with white rice. Usually packed with flavor, these condiments are popular with children and adults alike as quick and easy ways to enhance a bowl of hot rice.

Some people call them "rice sprinkles", but the toppings are all similar. A mixture of dried bits of fish, seaweed (nori), sesame seeds, sometimes dried egg bits or even wasabi, Furikake is meant to be sprinkled over a hot bowl of white rice to give it flavor. There are hundreds of varieties today, some even with curry or BBQ flavors that kids enjoy. The benefit is that these mixes are rich in minerals from the seaweed and are low in sodium and fat free.
If you've not tried ochazuke, this is another way to flavor rice by pouring hot green tea over a bowl of rice. You can purchase rice sprinkles especially flavored to top a bowl of ochazuke, and you'll get the benefits of green tea, too! Ochazuke is a great way to enjoy leftover rice.
Filled with intense flavor, tsukudani varieties have been simmered in soy sauce and sugar and are not meant to be eaten alone without a healthy heaping of white rice. Different tsukudani are made with seafood, meat or seaweed, of which wakame and kombu are most common.
  Sea vegetables like kelp (kombu) or brown seaweed (wakame) are known to be rich in iron and vitamins, as well as good sources of calcium. Many of these sea vegetables are used to make the Japanese soup stock known as dashi, the source of UMAMI, otherwise known as the 5th taste along with sweet, sour, salty and bitter.

To learn more about Japanese cuisine or even the basics about the proper way to cook better rice, refer to our Zojirushi Encyclopedia.

Click here to Encyclopedia:
Next month is whole grain month. Our recipes will feature whole grain bread, whole grain rice and a whole grain appetizer; and trust us, they’re so appetizing they’ll change the way you see whole grains!