Bento item of the week: Microwaveable no refrigeration needed rice

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This week’s bento item of the week is something that goes into a bento box for a change - microwaveable rice.

Made by several Japanese manufacturers, this is rice that is packed in individual-portion plastic containers or bags, and can be heated up in 2 minutes in the microwave. (All the packages say 2 minutes - I guess this is the magic number. More time is required if you’re nuking 2 or more packs at a time.) The packs contain pre-steamed rice, and do not require refrigeration. You can get white rice (the most common), osekihan (sticky rice with red azuki beans), or various flavored okayu or rice porridges.

Since they don’t require refrigeration (they are hermetically sealed with an inert gas inside that stops spoilage), they are handy to have around as an emergency backup, especially if you are making bento just for one or two, or have a small freezer that doesn’t allow for much stocking up. You could even keep a stack in your dorm room away from the often icky communal fridge. Taste wise, they are really pretty good - just like decent, freshly cooked rice, not at all like those mushy boil-in-a-bag-in-a-minute types.

Things that speak against them are all that plastic packaging required for a single portion of rice, the cost (about $2 - $3 per portion) - and that mystery inert gas thing they are packed in. I’m sure it’s perfectly harmless, but there is that tiny bit of doubt. I’d rather stock up my own rice in the freezer, but, as I’ve said, these packs are handy backups.

Look for them in Japanese grocery stores (my tiny local store has them, so your probably larger one should too). (And from the comments, it seems that regular supermarkets and mega-stores in the U.S. are now carrying them too.) Online, Uwajimaya sells them via Amazon in the U.S.; in Europe Japan Centre has a variety.

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A thumbs up

This is too funny…I live in Texas and my local HEB (LARGE grocery chain) sells these in the sushi section of the store. I bought these all the time about a year or two ago when I was in college for the convenience of them. Of course, now I have a rice cooker, but these definitely do yield a decent serving of nice sticky rice.

Inert gas

A lot of things packed with “inert gas” actually contain nitrogen, though I’m not sure it’s really “inert,” but it’s certainly safe (since it’s 80% of our atmosphere, about). Whether that’s what’s in this rice I couldn’t guess.

For people like me in the US but not near Asian markets, I happened to notice these at Cost Plus World Market the other day. Didn’t notice the price.

I miss HEB! Their Central Market stores are so great. When I lived in Houston I used to go there for dumpling sauce and a zillion kinds of frozen Asian goodies and jars of teriyaki flavored nori snacks and excellent produce… They even had frozen natto but I haven’t tried it. (I bought some, chickened out, and got a friend to try it. He didn’t like it.) And of course Houston has lots of actually Asian markets—Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese, the kinds of places where nothing is written in English unless required by law (I’m thinking of ingredient labels and safety notices) and sometimes not even then. But Central Market was much closer to me, so that’s where I usually went.

Inert gas - how would you pronounce that name of that store?

The nitrogen they use ( doubt they use argon or helium ) is certainly inert, that’s why they use it for this. Not sure why anyone is worried about this particular detail.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inert_gas

When I pronounce Uwajimaya I always separate out the ya since to me that means store, sake-ya, niku-ya, etc. Also, I understand Uwajima is a place related to the store’s founder. So, I saw Uwajima-ya.

Nobody here does that, it’s pronounced u-wa-gi-maya by the locals. I pointed this out one time to a Japanese speaker and she looked surprised, “Oh, I see what you mean, but be don’t say it like that here.”

Inert gas - radon!

Apparently one inert gas is radon. Radioactive, sure, but not very chemically active.

Not sure I want my food packed with radon though.

I bought a pack of these at

I bought a pack of these at walmart. They are definitely convenient considering the size of the kitchen in my dorm. I mainly use it for onigiri. Yay for microwaves.

A favorite of my mom

My mother loves these and used to buy them from the local Asian market. Her favorite was the pumpkin porridge one…which I always thought tasted extremely bland. I’ve had one of the plain rice ones, and you’re right, it does taste like fresh cooked rice, but the price is the one thing that keeps me from using them regularly.

It’s funny that you mention the ones with beans in them. My mom is always trying to get me to put barley, red beans, or a bean mix into my rice. I don’t like bean rice, but her answer to everything is “it’s heathly for you” or “it’s good for you blood/liver/kidney/etc…” Am I the only one with an Asian mother that always does this?

oh, convenience...

I do love the microwave rice. No need to go out of my way to get it, though. I can get Annie Chun’s brand or Minute brand single serve rice at the big-box supermarket. (Do note that I think the Annie Chun’s is much better!) While I do still make rice in a pot and stash the leftovers in the freezer, microwave rice is a really good option for when I want dinner now.

Nitrogen

Oh, I was thinking of the noble gases, which nitrogen is not one of. I didn’t remember there were other things considered “inert.” Having read the Wikipedia link, I can’t imagine what would be used to package this rice other than nitrogen. And though anything can be unsafe used wrongly, it’s hard to imagine how nitrogen packaged inside the rice container could cause problems beyond what you’d get from the nitrogen that’s floating loose in the atmosphere.

I’ll have to try one of these. I eat brown rice and haven’t wanted to buy a whole package of white rice, but I did sort of want to compare white rice onigiri to brown rice ones. This would be a good way.

Uwajimaya actually has an

Uwajimaya actually has an entire shelf (top to bottom) full of these things, but I can’t justify the price to myself even if it is convenient. (Coincidentally, I don’t know a single person who pronounces it “Uwagimaya”.) I kind of think of freezing my rice as making my own version of microwaveable rice. :)

Uwajimaya

I’m not sure why anyone would say uwaGimaya…since it’s spelled uwaJimaya.

It’s just said like u-wa-ji-ma-ya, with no accent on any particular syllable (if that is the question…not sure?) The -ya part does indeed indicate that it’s a store, and the Uwajima is the store or company or possibly the family name.

English speakers often have the urge to put an accent on a syllable in a Japanese word which doesn’t really match the way it is originally pronounced. However we get used to it…e.g. most people pronounce my name Ma-KEE-koh, though it really should be MA-ki-ko (not oh at the end). But since peeps have been calling me MaKEEkoh for such a long time I no longer notice. I guess Uwajimaya doesn’t mind whichever way they’re pronounced either, as long people buy :)

Maki - That was more in

Maki - That was more in response to Tudza who said the locals pronounce it “U-wa-gi-maya”. (Although, re-reading the comment, I think the G might’ve been a typo.) Since I’m a local, I felt the need to defend us a little.

Microwave rice

I use these all the time! I by them locally (here in japan) and they are quite cheap. I’m glad to hear I will be able to still buy them when I come back to the states.

My local Seiyu (Like a superwalmart with food and household goods as well as electronics, etc, etc) has a 2 shelf wide section of these. You can even buy them in convenient multipacks (3 in a pack, 6 in a pack, etc, etc).

I always have some on hand for when I know I’ll be too busy to fix a proper bento, or too busy to eat a bought lunch.

(There are several local bento-ya that we can call to have bento lunches delivered to us. You can choose your bento from the extensive menu, they all arrive at 1130 and are all packed in the ubiquitous plastic bento trays (with lids). After you finish it is expected you will rinse out your bento tray, dispose of your trash and replace your tray in the box they arrived in. If you order bentos several days in a row they pick up the used bentos when they drop off the new bentos. If you don’t order bento for the next day, they come back in the afternoon and pick them up. The price for all this ranges from about $5.00 for the cheapest and smallest bentos to about $15.00 for larger or exotic bentos.)

One of my favorite meals is one of these microwavable rice packs with a little soy sauce and a little sweet and sour sauce. Mmmmm good!

=)

That sounds cool! It’s pretty handy when your out of rice (is anybody EVER out of rice? :O) or need it quickly. But I know what you mean about the cons. I’m gonna see if my local Japanese market has it - I hope it does! I want to try it :)

Very convenient

We can find these at our little Japanese food store for about $4-5 for a three-pack. My mom would mail me these in her care packages when I was in college (along with furikake and packages tuna… mmm!) and I always have some on hand in case I don’t feel like taking the time to make an entire pot of rice. I’ve seen them at my local grocery store (H-E-B for all the Texans) by sushi station but they’ve been $7 or $8 for a three-pack. My Japanese grandma who lives in a retirement community (that doesn’t allow her rice cooker or any sort of cooking appliances in their rooms) routinely goes through 3 or 4 three-packs a week! We haven’t seen any side-effects yet!

Uwajimaya

Okay, have to put my two cents in here. If you really, really grew up in Seattle, you pretty much drop the “U” in Uwajimaya, change the “ji” to “ja” and slur it all together. Comes out sounding like “Wajamaya”. And that’s how you tell someone grew up in Seattle :).

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