How to wash Japanese rice the Japanese way – methods of the borderline obsessive compulsive Japanese

“Wait a minute?!”, you ask. “You mean there’s actually a technique to washing Japanese rice?”

YES! YES! YES! And if you think otherwise, boy, you have a lot to learn about the Japanese culture. We’re talking about a culture that camouflages cockroach pesticide as cockroach houses like this.

Back to washing rice.

I grew up washing rice grains in a particular way. I’d never thought it strange nor unusual. And of course, I never compared how I washed rice grains with anyone. I mean, how dull can a conversation get?

Forward a few decades. My in laws moved in with me, and during the first day of their move in, my MIL (mom in law) exclaimed in disgust as she watched me wash the grains of rice. She took over the task and from that day, I never washed rice grains again. The kitchen stopped belonging to me. Incidentally, we also had to move from cooking short grain rice to Jasmine rice.

So, how do the Japanese wash rice? Very thoroughly. In fact, by the time we are done with this, we would have used enough water to run a bubble bath. Okay, okay, so I exaggerate, but you get the drift.

The method:

Step 1: Fill the pot with the required amount of rice grains (2 cups minimum)

Step 2: Turn on tap and add some water to the pot. Not too much, just about enough to swirl the grains in the water

Step 3: Vigorously rub and scrub the grains with your fingers. Work through the grains. Massage, punch, swivel, and rub the grains around in the pot. About 30sec to 1 min.

Step 4: Fill the pot with water, gently pour out the milky water. Repeat 3 times.

Step 5: Repeat Step 3 to Step 4.

Step 6: Repeat Step 5. (So by the end of this step, you would have filled up the pot 9 times, and given the grains a good scrub).

Now, you have to try to drain the grains completely of water. Best to use a colander so that excess water will be drained off.

Lastly, fill the pot with desired amount of water, dry the outer cover of the pot, and place pot in the rice cooker. What you find absolutely amazing is that the water will be almost clear at this stage.

Let the rice grains soak in the water for about 20min. This is a MUST. Thereafter, you can finally turn on the rice cooker.

When the rice cooker switches from COOK to KEEP WARM, resist all temptation to open the rice cooker. Wait for 20min before you open the rice cooker.

There! We’re done!

Courtesy of my sister (we share the same Japanese mother), who sent me a photo of her washed rice grains.
Courtesy of my sister (we share the same Japanese mother), who sent me a photo of her washed rice grains.

Cooked Japanese rice, or rather, short grained rice, when cooked, is slightly sticky. Unlike Thai (or Jasmine) rice, in which the grains are all separated, Japanese rice clumps together. That’s why the Japanese and Chinese way of eating rice with chopsticks differ so much. When eating Jasmine rice, you’ll notice that you have to bring the bowl to the mouth and use the chopsticks to push the rice into your mouth. You can’t transport the rice from the bowl to your mouth using chopsticks without it spilling on the table. That’s why most of us Singaporeans simply use forks and spoons to eat rice off a plate. But when eating short grain rice, you can easily use your chopsticks to lift clumps of rice off the bowl into your mouth, while still looking quite elegant and neat. But this does not mean that the rice is sticky and mushy. On the contrary, it holds well, and you get a lovely chewy texture, and with a really good grain, you can even taste some sweetness in the rice.

I found out that the Chinese Singaporean rarely wash their rice grains. They fill up the pot with water, and give a cursory stir and swivel. The purpose of this is just to check for weevils. There’s no vigorous rubbing of the grain, oh no, that will simply destroy the husk of the rice which is nutritious (oh, but I thought that as long as it’s white grains, the nutritious husk has already been stripped off). After this minimal washing, the pot is filled to the desired amount, where the water looks all milky (more like murky to me). It’s alright to have murky water, I was told. In fact, it’s nutritious. Once the pot is in the rice cooker, there’s no soaking, the rice cooker is turned on. Once the rice is cooked, you can serve it immediately too!

When I first learnt how Jasmine rice was to be washed, I was quite disgusted. I soon found out that hawker centers and likely most restaurants probably don’t even wash their rice grains. They probably just dump the grains into a large rice cooker, fill it up with water and turn the cooker on.

I recall once, about 10 years ago, when I was eating lunch at a small Japanese restaurant at International Plaza, I had a view of the kitchen from where I was sitting, and I could see that the chef took time and effort to wash the huge pot of Japanese rice grains. He actually left the tap running in the huge pot for minutes to let the water run through the grains. And no wonder the rice tasted so good!