Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Oishinbo: The Joy of Rice

The sixth volume of the compelling Oishinbo series has just been released and is titled, The Joy of Rice. It deals primarily with rice, in all its varieties and preparations. This is an essential Japanese food and this book is both enjoyable and informative.

Like the previous volumes, this book begins with a recipe: Scallop Rice. Then there are eleven chapters and also like the prior volumes, the back of the book has a series of notes, many dealing with Japanese terms, concerning the text.

The first chapter centers on a challenge, trying to find a Ginza restaurant which will satisfy a millionaire gourmet. A homeless man is consulted for his expertise, as he sorts the garbage for many restaurants and eats the leftovers. He thus understand which restaurants have the best food. The meal ultimately served to the gourmet is a simple miso soup, bowl of rice and a dried sardine. Yet it thrills him, and you will have to read the book to know why.

Chapters Two and Three deal with the differences of brown and white rice, including why organic brown rice may not always be good for you. Though pesticides may not be used in the actual farming, one also has to be careful about the source of the fertilizer one uses. Some manure may come from cows which had antibiotics. The leaves and grass used in compost may also have had pesticides used on it. If you truly wish to be organic, you must delve deeply into the sources of everything you use. That is a lesson that extends far beyond rice.

Chapter Four then gets a bit scientific, with an explanation of the water absorption rate of rice, milling rates as well as the effects of humidity. This helps explain why rice does not always come out right when you cook it. Chapter Five is more political, an opposition to a policy which would liberalize rice imports in Japan, and potentially destroy an important element of Japanese culture. It also discusses worries about the safety of imported rice, and whether it might contain too many pesticides. In Chapter Six, we learn about the "Matsutake rice of the sea." Matustake are mushrooms, and sliced atop rice they make a very compelling dish. But sliced Tokobushi Abalone, which looks like Matsutake, tastes even better.

Chapter Seven deals with takikomi gohan and maze gohan, both dishes of rice mixed with other foods. Rice is very versatile and can be combined with many other ingredients to create a wide variety of different tasting dishes. This theme continues in Chapter Eight with a discussion of oysters and rice. The final three chapters also follow the same theme.

The final three chapters deal with a rice ball competition. Rice balls are an integral part of Japanese culture, and even figure into a number of folktales. They come in many different types, often a ball of rice with some type of meat, fish or vegetable in the middle. The typical Japanese rice is short-grained and sticky, which makes for a good rice ball. Asian long-grained rice though does not work, as once it gets cold, it often gets tough. The chapters provide many different examples of rice balls, showing their versatility and diversity.

This volume of the series was once again fun and educational. I continue to recommend the entire series to any foodie. Unfortunately, there is only one more volume, Izakaya, that has yet to be released, and which will be published in January 2010. I do wish the series would go on and on.


The Wine Whore said...

I'm guessing there's no hidden chapter on the joys of Uncle Ben's instant rice... :P

Richard Auffrey said...

Yep, the publisher did delete that chapter before publication. :)

Rice cookers are easy to use, and you get much better rice.