Don’t get me wrong, I like rice. Rice with flavor, that is.
Jambalaya, Spanish rice, risotto … even a good Jasmine rice tastes pretty terrific on its own. But plain Japanese white rice — while placed at every meal as if no meal could be complete without it, while served to you by well-meaning hosts who invariably (and infuriatingly) ask “Can you eat rice?” and when the answer is “Yes,” you are expected to proclaim that what has just graced your tongue is like unto manna from heaven — is actually, if you ask me, pretty bland. As such, I thought I’d share some ways to add flavor to an otherwise sort of flavorless side dish. Allez cuisine!
Traditionally made by pouring tea over old rice and adding some pickles, nori (dried seaweed) and whatever else is lying around, ochazuke for most folks these days means opening up a packet of instant mix and tossing it in along with some hot water. As a food, ochazuke is so lackluster that asking your guests if they wanted some was once the traditional sign that you wanted them to get out. It’s easy to make but it is about the most boring thing you can do with an already boring ingredient … unless, of course, it is used as a component in the Breakfast of Fear.
Literally meaning something like “shake-n-coat,” furikake is a dried condiment sprinkled on top of rice to give it some flavor. I use the term “flavor” loosely here, because — as with ochazuke — said flavoring revolves mostly around fish and seaweed. Now, I have nothing against seaweed, but I personally prefer a bit more variety. Enter Exhibit A, Habanero-iri Gekikara Togarashi Furikake, or “Violently Spicy Red Pepper Furikake with Habanero.”
Now we’re talking.
A couple dashes of this bad boy, which goes for all of 99 yen at the local discount store, will add a bit of fire to some otherwise bland rice.
Another flavoring option is concentrated pastes that you scoop out and dollop onto your rice. Common examples include Gohan Desu Yo, which is made principally of nori (yes, seaweed again) and those made from the pulp of ume plums.
This is the stuff you should be using: Tappuri Niku Miso. The niku (“meat”) in this case is ground pork, and while I don’t normally dig on swine, the mincemeat has no piggy aftertaste, and the miso flavor is phenomenal. If you’re a fan of miso ramen (as I am), you will see the obvious flavor parallel and you will love this stuff.
Unlike furikake, which one sprinkles daintily to allow one to savor the zen-like purity of one’s exceedingly boring rice, seasoning packets are added to rice in the frying pan to transform it into a flavorful, full-fledged main dish. You can never go wrong with a chahan (fried rice) packet, but other faves from the neighborhood 99 yen store include the dry curry packet pictured below and the Nasi Goreng packet — plop a fried egg on top and the result is a cheap and flavorful meal.
Hope this helped. Now get out there and throw a monkey wrench into the revered blandness that is white rice.