Rice is life


japanese rice planting
Rice planting ceremony in Spring

Essentially, all Japanese people living in Japan consider themselves to be rice connoisseurs. They love the Japanese grown rice, and some do not know how to live their lives without it. Because to the Japanese population, not all rice is the same or even similar in taste. To them, Japanese rice is the best thing in the world. Nothing else even comes close to its shiny and sticky texture. They refuse to eat foreign rice because to them it tastes like &$%^.

I routinely get asked by people in Japan about what type of foreign and awful rice I am forced to eat daily in U.S.  My husband is an ethnic Chinese from Vietnam, and they eat long grain rice. So, I started to eat Jasmine rice (a higher grade long grain rice) after I moved to U.S. years ago.  Jasmine rice is fragrant and tastes better than the long grain rice normally served in American restaurants.  I particularly like Jasmine rice from Thailand.  I can get a very good price in a 50 lb bag of Jasmine rice from Costco. Long grain rice is not sticky like Japanese rice, and has dryer texture. (I can see my Japanese friends frowning while reading this paragraph.)

Every Japanese person who asks me about my long grain rice eating life in U.S. gets seriously TERRIFIED. “You eat foreign rice?! Really? I know it does not taste good.” (おいしくないでしょう) is the reaction to my horrible taste in rice. They stare at me like I turned into an alien.

I cook California Calrose (medium grain – close to Japanese grown) rice sometimes when I make dishes like Sushi. However, Jasmine rice is much cheaper than Japanese short grain rice by boatload.  I would say at least about ½ the price.

I think in other rice eating societies, they eat rice to enhance the taste of other food. For Japanese people, rice is… LIFE. There is no other food more important than rice (domestic rice that is).

Have you ever noticed the common signs posted in restaurants in Japan “We use only domestic rice.” If you do not read Japanese, ask your Japanese friends if they have seen it. This sign implies a different spirit from Americans specifically buying “Made in USA” products. Americans buy American made products to support fellow Americans and their jobs, right?  Japanese eat only domestic rice because they can’t stand eating what they believe to be “inferior” foreign rice.

In 1994, there was a big shortage of rice in Japan due to poor harvesting and the Japanese government was forced to distribute imported foreign rice. (Yes, the government is in full control of rice farming and distribution in Japan, but that is another topic.) Many of you were probably too young to remember. The government needed mix the imported rice with domestic rice to make up for the domestic rice shortage. The decision was a very unpopular one and caused uproar in Japan.

Back then, the Japanese government did a blind taste test of Japanese rice, foreign rice, and domestic/foreign rice mixture.  The result was that people liked the pure California rice and domestic/foreign blend as well as the pure Japanese rice. The trick was that the rice needed to be soaked in water for some duration before cooking to achieve the sticky texture.

The lesson is that the Japanese rice does indeed taste very good, but it is not the only good tasting rice in the world. Don’t tell that to your Japanese friends, though. They may be seriously offended.

When my Japanese friends get overly concerned with my bad taste of in foreign rice and start asking more and more questions, I always use a line that prompts them to drop the subject.  “My body is used to eating dry Thai rice now, and whenever I am back in Japan eating sticky Japanese rice all the time, I get digestive issues. You do not want to know all the details about it.”  Japanese people are generally shy and proper, and they usually drop the subject and spare me from explaining further details. They will still look at me like an alien, but they will press no further…


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