Washing Rice/part deux

In response to my previous post, Marisha asked, “What is the effect of washing rice (besides cleaning it from dust)?” and “Do you know something about it from Japanese tradition?”

I have posed this question to several people from different ethnic backgrounds and it turns out that every answer is almost identical. In developing countries and in times past, rice was adulterated and contained dust, talc, bugs and other impurities that the act of washing removed. This habit has somehow stayed with us even in modern times and even though the FDA ensures that the rice we buy in the U.S. is perfectly safe to consume without repeated washing.

As it so happens, I was reading Linda Furiya’s latest book How to Cook a Dragon: Living, Loving, and Eating in China (Seal Press, January 1, 2009). It’s a candidly told food memoir detailing her years living abroad as an expat in China, punctuated with food and cooking of course,  as well as a tale of self-discovery. In one chapter, she vividly describes the soothing experience of watching her mom wash rice.

So to answer Marisha’s second question, I asked Linda if she remembers any Japanese rice traditions when she was growing up. Linda told me that her mom grew up in pre-World War II Japan eating brown rice, which was associated with poverty. Not surprisingly, Linda didn’t eat brown rice growing up and had her first taste in her 20’s.

Both her parents always washed their rice before cooking it. “I remember my dad took pride in washing the rice and having the water in the bowl run clear before my mom!” she says with a laugh.

Here is an excerpt from Linda’s book available from Amazon.com.


Mom decided to make ochazuke (rice soaked with tea) for supper for the two of us. It was one of my favorite childhood comfort foods-homey, simple, and uniquely Japanese. She used to make it at times like these, evenings when Dad took Keven and Alvin to a baseball game, or after my older brothers moved out and my mom and I were often alone at dinnertime.

I watched silently as she rinsed the rice. I took comfort in the familiarity of her movements, as I had watched her go through this ritual hundreds of times before. She swirled the rice with her hand in a whirlpool motion, producing a pleasant swish sound as the grains hit the rice cooker’s metal bowl. I could have gone off somewhere in the house and done something else, but there was an unsettled feeling between us that I hoped we could resolve.

As she set up the rice cooker, Mom asked me to get the tall canister of green tea from the cabinet. I saw containers there that I hadn’t seen in years. There were Howard Johnson and Holiday Inn plastic ice buckets holding open sacks of confectioner’s sugar, brown sugar, and gravy flour. In the drawers were ashtrays used to store rubber bands and twist ties. As survivors of the Depression, and having experienced great loss in their lives, my parents kept and recycled everything. My mother always surprised me by wearing my old clothes that I had long forgotten, including the sweater she’d had on when I arrived for this visit.

We had some time before the rice would be done, so we went into the living room with our cups of hot tea. Usually Mom turned on the television to watch CNN, but she didn’t reach for the remote control. Instead she pulled a package of osembe (rice crackers) from the bottom shelf of her china cabinet. Each golden-brown disk, shiny with a soy sauce glaze, was individually wrapped to retain its freshness. The crackers were mouthwatering and crunchy, delicious with the green tea. We munched in silence.

Excerpted from How To Cook a Dragon: Living, Loving, and Eating in China, by Linda Furiya. Excerpted by arrangement with Seal Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright (c) (2009)

Linda’s Recipe for Ochazuke


Ochazuke means “tea and pickles,” but as long as you include the bonito flakes, rice crackers, nori, and pickles, you’ll create the essential seasoning base. The Japanese tea is a key ingredient, not an option. Linda prefers hoji-cha or genmaicha. If you want to make more of a meal, you can add cooked egg, scrambled with a drop or two of soy sauce and mirin (seasoned rice wine).

Time: 15 minutes
Makes: 4 servings

4 cups cooked rice (fresh or leftover)
6 cups hot green tea
1/4 cup bonito flakes
1/2 cup arare (rice cracker pellets) or crumbled rice crackers
1/2 cup nori (cut into 2 x 1/4-inch strips or purchased preshredded)
4 pickled plums
1/4 cup chopped takuen (pickled daikon)
1/4 cup chopped green onions
1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds
2 cups bean sprouts
Wasabi to taste
Leftover salmon (cut into small bits) or beef (sliced thin)

Divide the cooked rice among 4 bowls. Arrange the assortment of toppings in individual bowls. Create your own flavors by adding the toppings and seasonings to your liking. Pour hot tea over rice and toppings, enough to cover the rice. Allow the rice and tea to sit for about a minute so that the flavors will meld (and will warm up the rice if it has been refrigerated).

Pat’s notes:

I used furikake, a Japanese condiment typically comprising sesame seeds, seaweed, sugar, salt. Look for a brand that doesn’t contain monosodium glutamate.











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7 thoughts on “Washing Rice/part deux

  1. Hi Pat, sorry for the late reply, better late than never, hey?

    we cook glutinous rice in a totally different way, we never wash or presoak it before cooking, we lightly stir fry it before cooking (together with previously poached onion, garlic and tomato) and then we cook it with other ingredients such as seafood, chicken, other meats and veggies in a stock so that it adquires the taste of the broth. We obtain a very loose and very tasty rice.

  2. Thanks, Annalisa, it’s a fun read too.

    Marisha, yes, rice is a fascinating topic as it’s a staple not just in Asia but also in Central and South American and Europe! I’ve always thought a book on its history would be worthwhile.

    Hi inigoaguirre, thanks for the comparsion. Washing and soaking rice definitely encourages rice to cook faster. I’ve been taught to ALWAYS soak glutinous rice before steaming. How do you cook glutinous rice in Spanish cuisine?

  3. Hi, I have tried cooking glutinous rice both ways, washed and unwashed to see what the difference was.

    The results I got was that the unwashed rice (we never wash rice for Spanish cooking)took longer to cook and wasn’t as glutinous and the rice had a much firmer texture, much more appropriate for a risotto or a Spanish paella, that’s what we aim at in our cuisine.

    The washed rice had a whiter colour, much more glutinous and it moved slowly and beautifully as you left it to cool. No difference in taste though.

    I think that after washing it and sitting it for an hour or so before cooking, the rice grain becomes more “active”, as if it was more prepared to germinate. That might be the reason why it cooks faster and the final result is a softer kernel

  4. Thanks a lot for answering my comments in your post, Pat. Interesting story comes up, isn’t it? This post along with the previous one made me wondering about the history of rice becoming a main meal in Asia, which must be exciting too. Probably I should be writing about the history…. 😉
    Again, thank you for great writing, Pat!

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