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.