Question for Japanese members about rice

Risa
Bento-ing from: › USA
Joined: 7 Aug 2009
User offline. Last seen 5 years 5 weeks ago.

Hello,

I'm doing some research for my website. Can you please tell me if your family has rice during dinner, or at the end of the meal, with pickles and miso soup?

The reason I ask is because my family always has (and had) rice at the end of the meal, with pickles and soup. This is also the way rice is served at the traditional better restaurants in Japan, so I always assumed it was the norm. However, after starting Savory Japan, I heard from some Japanese natives who had a different experience, with rice served during the meal.

One reason for this is the custom of rice not being served with alcohol. My parents enjoy their cocktails, so it was customary for us (even while we were kids) to enjoy a number of dishes before having rice. And it's ironic, because I actually prefer to have rice during my meal, especially with salty foods. and my husband, who isn't Japanese, perfers rice at the end.

What was the custom at your house?

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Risa
Bento-ing from: › USA
Joined: 7 Aug 2009
User offline. Last seen 5 years 5 weeks ago.
Re: Question for Japanese members about rice

I added a discussion point on my blog as well: http://savoryjapan.com/wordpress/

Looking forward to hearing your answers!

Thanks!

www.savoryjapan.com
Japanese Cuisine, Travel and Culture

Loretta
Moderator
Bento-ing from: London › UK
Joined: 4 Mar 2009
User offline. Last seen 1 year 7 weeks ago.
Re: Question for Japanese members about rice

I asked my husband about this and got his view point, but it must be stressed that he is from Tokyo and that has a big influence on his perceptions.

Although he is aware of individuals who finish their meals with rice, he's never come across any families who habitually eat this way.
The people he knows who do finish with rice are individuals or couples without children who like to spend their evenings relaxing with a drink or two and eating substantial otsumami items. If they then feel like putting some kind of 'closure' on this kind of informal meal by eating a bowl (or half a bowl) of rice they'll scrape it out from the rice cooker. In a way, this will turn 'snacking' into 'dinner'. Obviously, it is quite common for people to do this exact same thing at an izakaya - but here the final bowl of rice might be ochazuke or something similar.

But for family meals his experience involves a range of okazu dishes with miso and rice. It's true that rice would be served up last, but that was just the manner in which the meal was placed on the table. Rice was always eaten from the start and it was usual to eat two or three (or more) bowls of rice during the course of a meal. (To be honest, I've never known my husband not to request extra portions - okawari - at a Japanese restaurant). His own father was always under the impression that it was 'proper' to begin a meal with a mouthful of rice and then a sip of miso... the reasons for this are a bit obscure to us and this impression was never imposed onto his family.

Perhaps it's worth noting here that my husband comes from a family that doesn't drink that much alcohol at home. Not to imply anything at all negative about your own background, but in my husband's experience, those who enjoy drinking and eating tend to eat less rice than those who generally drink and eat separately - but these trends aren't always determined by drinking habits. I guess this might be summed up as 'otsumami' style dining (with rice at the end) and 'okazu' style dining (with rice throughout the meal).
What a family from Kyoto might make of these impressions he has no idea and he earnestly hopes his comments cause no offense.

Risa
Bento-ing from: › USA
Joined: 7 Aug 2009
User offline. Last seen 5 years 5 weeks ago.
Re: Question for Japanese members about rice

Dear Loretta,

This is really interesting: "His own father was always under the impression that it was 'proper' to begin a meal with a mouthful of rice and then a sip of miso... the reasons for this are a bit obscure to us and this impression was never imposed onto his family."

It's true that my family eats less rice at dinner, and their okazu tend to consist of several kinds of protein and vegetables, both simmered and raw, (like salads). We always had a variety of little dishes at the table, except on days we had something like curry rice. But even in Tokyo, when we order a multi-course meal, rice is always served at the end (not just at izakayas)

I agree with your husband. It must have to do with families who drink, and those who don't.

Thanks so much!

www.savoryjapan.com
Japanese Cuisine, Travel and Culture

Loretta
Moderator
Bento-ing from: London › UK
Joined: 4 Mar 2009
User offline. Last seen 1 year 7 weeks ago.
starting with rice
Risa wrote:

This is really interesting: "His own father was always under the impression that it was 'proper' to begin a meal with a mouthful of rice and then a sip of miso... the reasons for this are a bit obscure to us and this impression was never imposed onto his family."

When my husband told me this it rang a chord (I have a real interest in the global history of rice). From what I can make out it is a custom that exists in other Asian cultures where rice is prominent so the reasons behind it may be a remnant of a spiritual or Shinto tradition. The example I had in mind was Thailand. By taking that mouthful of rice first some kind of acknowledgment is made. I'm sorry I can't be more specific. I'm always fascinated to see how whispers of age old traditions manage to survive in modern cultures, whether in Europe or Asia or anywhere else where I can recognise the traces.

My husband found it interesting to learn of your perceptions of the 'anatomy of a Japanese meal'. He's always struck by how little he knows about Japan and Japanese traditions outside of the confines of Tokyo.

If you haven't seen it already, here is Maki's take on a Japanese meal:
http://www.justhungry.com/2006/08/the_anatomy_of_a_japanese_meal.html

But I can already tell we like eating at the same kind of restaurants in Japan, Risa! At the establishments my husband chooses to dine in they will bring the rice out (if there is any) right at the start. But he's 'traditional' enough to feel a sense of irritation if the miso and rice are served the wrong way around on the table. I'm the one who seeks out the kaiseki style meals at lunch time. If he comes with me I then have to sit next to him somewhere else for 10 to 15 minutes whilst he finishes off his appetite with a donburi or bowl of ramen... Basically, he's happiest at restaurants with the okawari option.

Folly
Bento-ing from: San Francisco
Joined: 5 Jul 2009
User offline. Last seen 1 year 25 weeks ago.
Re: Question for Japanese members about rice

I think that the "answer" is based in socio-economic-geographical factors. I am a Baby-Boomer Sansei living a very Western, urban life. Until I began bento-ing, I ate rice once a month with Japanese food. That being said, my family's background is in farming. When my father was growing up in rural California, his family of eight (including four sisters and mother) consumed 100 lbs. of rice every month. Rice was central to every meal; everything else was a side dish. As we became westernized and American eating habits changed, rice was only served at dinner -- even if it was spaghetti night. I have fond memories of Ba-chan making large batches of makizushi and inarizushi for parties. They were stored in Tupperware, but served in beautiful lacquered boxes -- right next to the lasagna and taco salad. Onigiri was leftover rice. The eating habits of the Yonseis are now indistinguishable from those of their multi-ethnic Northern California friends.

The alcohol link puzzles me. Almost everyone in my family enjoys social drinking. I remember Dad having scotch with friends before dinner. Only tea with dinner. I didn't start drinking wine with a meal until after college. Now when my sibs and I get together, we usually share a cocktail before and wine with dinner.

I'm looking forward to hearing what other Japanese and those of Japanese descent think of this topic. I once read that "gohan" was synonymous with "food." And I've always thought of it as central to Japanese identity.

maki
admin
Bento-ing from: somewhere › France
Joined: 24 Jan 2007
User offline. Last seen 2 weeks 1 day ago.
Re: Question for Japanese members about rice

Well, first of all, when it comes to eating at home, it ain't that formal :) Just like the 'ritual' or 'custom' in a middle-American household of using a knife and fork except when it's a hamburger and you eat with your hands, or the European 'custom' of having bread with every meal, or...

Anyway. A regular meal in Japan usually is eating with rice - rice is the center of the meal and the other food (okazu) is all meant to go with rice (see Anatomy of a Japanese Meal). Now, people like my uncle, who is a bit of a 'nonbeh' (飲んべえ)- he likes his sake (or beer in the summer) skips rice altogether and sips his drink with his meal. My stepfather used to do that too, sort of - he'd have maybe half a bowl of rice, and sip on sake. This was mainly for weight control though (since alcohol has its calories). Now he's gotten a lot more health conscious, so he's given up mostly on alcohol, certainly the nightly tipple, and just has rice. With a formal kaiseki meal you might have a bowl of ochazuke at the end of the meal. If you go to an izakaya, you would nibble on food whilst drinking (rather as you would at a tapas bar). So there you go.

____________________________________

The Big Onigiri.

- Wherever you go, there you are. -

maki
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Bento-ing from: somewhere › France
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Re: Question for Japanese members about rice

Folly, gohan ご飯 or the more informal/ruder way of saying it, meshi 飯 can mean rice or a meal. So, e.g.

gohan kudasai (or the ruder way, meshi kure!) can mean either 'Give me a meal' or 'give me rice' (always referring to the cooked, prepared rice btw...not raw grains, which are always (o)kome)

I guess it is quite expected for emigrants to gradually change or adapt their eating habits to those in their adopted country, while incorporating them with the ones they brought over. Actually there is a generational gap in Japan as well as regional differences. My grandfathers for instance never ever had bread for a meal (at least not my grandfather on my mother's side, who for the last 10 years or so of his life had sashimi and rice for dinner every day). My uncles and aunts may occasionally have bread for breakfast. My sister (the one who lives in Japan) or my cousins mostly have bread for breakfast.

(FWIW, my mother's family is from Saitama - many of the clan still live there. Saitama is next to Tokyo but much more traditional. My father's family was born and raised in Tokyo and now scattered all over the country, and are less traditionally minded.)

However, for a typical Japanese meal outside of breakfast, the rice + side dishes pattern is still typical. (It's the same for a traditional breakfast too, but as I said more people eat at least half of their breakfasts Western style these days.

I also remembered I had this post up, about Japanese breakfasts - http://www.justhungry.com/full-japanese-breakfast-scaled-down

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