In Japan, as well as some other Eastern cultures, rice is eaten daily and products made from rice are very abundant: rice wine, sweets made from rice (mochi), even rice paper. Rice is not only relatively inexpensive and nutrient-rich, but it can be made quite easy at home in a device called a “suihanki” (炊飯器), or rice-cooker. You’re likely to see one of these at most Japanese households.
There are several different brands and sizes starting as little as $20, but the one we used at home is by the Japanese maker “Zojirushi” and runs for $150-$200 (See here for a similar model). This may seem a bit steep but these machines are quite sturdy and can last for years, and if you use it at least once daily (or even once a week) it’s completely worth the money.
To use a Japanese rice cooker you first first measure and then wash the rice to remove dirt or other impurities which are potentially present, although be careful to not over wash as some claim that reduces valuable nutrients. Then you put the rice into the machine, add the appropriate amount of water and press “start”, and the cooking process begins. It’s easy to tell the proper amount of water required due to a convenient set of marks on the inside of the machine which correspond to the number cups of rice used and the type of rice.
There are sensors built in to tell when the rice is done just right, with a total time typically around 45-60 minutes for regular white rice, but this can extend to 2 hours or longer for brown rice. If you get one of the more expensive models from Zojirushi you typically also get the ability to set a timer to start the cooking at a later time. You can take advantage of this feature and set the timer for an hour or two before you wake up, so freshly cooked rice is available without having to wait. There is also a button for reheating, so you can quickly prepare leftovers from the refrigerator. We’ve also experimented with reheating other foods like soup in our rice cooker, and though we’ve had some success the manual says to avoid this, so attempt it with caution.
The supported rice types include normal white rice, brown rice, mixed rice, and porridge. We’ve also tried Indian rice types (Basmati, Jasmati) which turned out great. On occasion we’ve found certain products which require a little less or more water than is indicated for optimum taste, so when trying a new type of rice be aware of this possibility.
Another nice thing about the Zojirushi rice cookers is they have a handle and are easy to transport, so after the rice is ready you can bring the unit from the kitchen to your dining room (or wherever you eat) for easy second helpings ( “okawari” お変わりin Japanese). They also feature a retractable cord which allows for easy storage, and a place to keep the large spoon (“shamoji” しゃもじ). The inner pot (“kama” 釜) is also removable to make the insertion of rice and water simple, and make cleaning a snap.
If you’re into Japanese culture, or just a general rice fanatic, one of these rice cookers is a must!