30 June, 2007

Genmai -- Brown Rice

These days in Japan there seems to be a prejudice against brown rice. Whenever I've recommended it to students, they usually say things like, "My (old) mother will only eat pure white rice". Or, "Isn't it hard to cook?" "It's too hard to chew." They have lots of reasons but most of them are just like morning mist. Give it a good breeze -- it clears away and you see the light.

First, brown rice well-cooked, is not that hard. It's not much harder to chew than white rice, and the bite that it has is pleasant and tells you that you're eating real food, food that can rightly take it's place as the backbone of a good meal. Food that fills the mouth and satisfies the stomach in a way that feels healthy, and very unlike the feeling you get from eating sticky white starch. Brown rice isn't very sticky, though it holds together just fine for eating with chopsticks. It has a nice subtle nutty flavour that you won't find in processed rice. Mostly, Japanese people eat rice without any seasoning. I've always found that about as exciting as eating plain white bread fresh from the plastic bag; in other words, unpalatable. In perhaps true Canadian style, I like a little salt and pepper on my rice, a sprinkling of sesame. But, if I had to, I could eat brown rice plain. I could never do that with white rice.

If you think that brown rice is hard to cook, you'd be wrong. It usually cooks fine in just one regular cycle. Sometimes, in the dead of winter, it doesn't cook well. Perhaps it's too cold in the kitchen and the rice cooker element doesn't heat the water hot enough. So, during the winter months I compromise a little. I add 1/2 cup of white rice (I use basmati) to 1 and 1/2 cups of brown organic genmai. That takes care of the problem most of the time. If it doesn't, then I simply turn on the rice cooker for another cycle. The rice comes out fine and the beauty of the rice cooker is that it will keep your rice hot for a day or two, if that's how long it takes to eat it. Whatever is left after that time makes perfect cha-han, fried rice. I love cha-han for breakfast made with whatever vegetables I have in the kitchen and an organic egg.

But my favourite breakfast these days is stir fried vegetables, served hot and savoury atop a bowl of genmai. Sometimes I add a fried egg, or some fried tofu. This morning I had some of the new cabbage, which is deliciously mild and in the stores right now, asparagus, green and regular onion, fried in a bit of salad oil seasoned with a few cloves of fresh garlic and ginger, topped with black sesame and a touch of toasted sesame oil, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, and a sparing amount of tamari soy sauce. The onions and vegetables carmelized just a bit in my wok and were absolutely delicious over the genmai. It was so good I had no reluctance to have the leftovers for lunch, with a few cups of black coffee, and a salad made simply with new cabbage, green onions, and fresh tomato dressed with olive oil, cider vinegar, salt and pepper and just a pinch of basil. The simplest of meals, made lovely by honestly good food. Genmai-- try it. Go ahead, make yourself happy.

6 comments:

  1. I've had some of the best brown rice of my life in Japan- love that genmai. Here, though, I haven't found a really great brand... I do make it sometimes, especially with vegan meals, but DH doesn't care for it, so I try to alternate. We have way too many kinds of rice at our house- Japanese short grain, Italian Arborio, Thai jasmine, Indian Basmati... wild rice too, although that hardly counts. We're big on all forms of rice at our house. ;)
    -Sea

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  2. The brown rice I had in North America was much different from what's available here. It was hard and dry and took a lot of cooking. I think it was because it was long-grain rice and probably a bit old. In fact, most of the grocery-store rice in North America has been sitting on the shelf too long to be good. Japanese would never touch it. Having said that, there is a way to make the brown rice palatable. You toast it in a dry pot or cast iron skillet for a few minutes before you add the water and cook it. That produces a smoky,nutty flavour not unlike genmai-cha. It's very good.

    You do seem to have a lot of nice varieties of rice in your house. I love wild "rice". It's fantastic as part of a risotto.

    Have you tried going to an Asian grocery? Maybe they would have or be able to order genmai for you. They might also have good sushi rice, and other stuff so you could do a bit of Japanese cooking when the yen strikes.:)

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  3. Genmai should be better promoted here in Japan. It is great for lunch boxes, for example. Makes for a nice and filling meal during the day, but it is not that great for supper, in my opinion (too heavy just hours before sleep).

    Many people eat it mixed with some white (polished) rice and actually it is often served as an alternative in Tokyo restaurants.

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  4. Hi Martin:

    Welcome. I just checked out your blogs; very interesting -- I'll be back.

    Glad to hear you can get brown rice in Tokyo restaurants. Lately I've heard that it's become trendy with some of the younger folks. Good news.
    :)

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  5. I love genmai! I also encountered prejudice against it - funnily enough, it's from my Japanese parent's generation! They grew up during WW2, and I guess they prefer the luxury of pure white rice - something they couldn't have at that time... it means more than taste, but what it represents.

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  6. Hi cocoandme :

    Thanks for visiting! Very interesting blog you have (I'm still reading).

    Yeah, people have told me that they consider white rice a luxury item, but hopefully it will make a comeback soon as it's so much healthier and tastier. I know the food shortages during and after the war affected people deeply and I understand that they may feel a little emotional about food. Heck, maybe we all do. :)

    Good luck with your dream of the bookstore and bakery. I also love books and bookstores deeply and often thought of having one. But I think for you it's very doable, since you seem to have a volcano of energy in your back pocket-- just the ticket for starting a business.

    :)

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