“Off to buy rice. In Japan, a true test of ones decision-making skills.”

That was my latest (admittedly banal and self-indulgent) Facebook status update, but as I wandered down to the supermarket it occurred to me it could be a potential blog post. As you can imagine, shopping in a country in which you don’t understand the language can frequently yield funny/frustrating/disgusting results, and whilst buying rice isn’t filled with the risks that some other items are (clear white-ish liquids being one – vinegar? Mirin? Cooking sake? Sugar syrup? Something else entirely?!), it is still nice to be able to get something tasty. This time, I had already decIded to get brown rice – something that isn’t at all popular here (in fact it’s associated with being poor) – which automatically eliminated about 90% of the types on offer. Which was good, given just how many types are on offer…

Buying rice: decisions decisions
This is the main aisle for smaller bags of rice, unusual kinds of rice, and rice “additives” (will talk about these below)

Buying rice: decisions decisions
These are the shelves on the far end of the above aisle

Buying rice: decisions decisions
Finally, there were four stacks like this, each with several brands heaped on top of one-another, but by this point, on a busy Saturday afternoon, I was starting to feel self-conscious about taking photos, so stopped

Whereas at home we get lots of different types of rice that you can normally distinguish from eachother, Japanese rice mainly looks the same to my untrained eye – it’s white and short-grained. All the varieties you can see are Japanese rice – no Thai, Basmati, Arborio, wild or American rice for you! Some varieties are suitable for making sushi, whereas the others are all multi-use. The only type they have that differs vastly is mochi rice, a stickier starchier type that is used mainly for making puddings. Here is a free factlet for you – Italian Arborio rice actually originated from a Japanese variety.

Since white rice is low on both fibre and nutrients, a range of products is sold to be cooked with rice to put these back in. There are three main types of these – brown rice which has been soaked in warm water for a period of days, after which it starts germinating. This makes it more nutritionally dense, and takes away the hardness common in brown rice. It is normally cooked with rice at a ratio of one part germinated to two parts normal. Barley is another thing that is cooked like this, and is designed to bulk up the fibre content. The other product are sachets of mixed seeds, grains and nuts that are cooked with the rice. They have things like millet, sesame seeds, barley, and sunflower seeds in, and are actually very tasty.

To end this post, the type I bought was a brown Koshihikari (コシヒカリ or こしひかり or 越光 if you are here and want to buy some) rice. It is one of the most popular all-purpose varieties, and the brand I got is in the first photo, end section, third shelf down on the far left. Delicious :)

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2 Responses

  1. Brian Enigma says:

    That reminds me very much of the asian market across the street here. Fortunately, I do get a little bit of help due to FDA labeling laws. Everything has to have at least a small English label with ingredients and nutrition information. It helps me pick out the rice vinegar from the rice wine, for instance. Unfortunately, it does nothing to help me with the similarly big stacks of rice. They all contain “rice.” The English labels do nothing to help describe the nuances between them. I just sort of pick something at random, and if it works for what I need it for (in this case, making sushi at home), I remember to get that same brand again.

  2. gai.ninja says:

    Yeah – the “remember for next time” thing works well for green tea, I find. I also use a Japanese dictionary on the iPhone, and since I’ve enabled Chinese characters, can draw kanji directly into it. That said, I did recently buy something that tastes like vinegar but has an alcohol content!

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