For Epicurious, by Katherine Sacks.
Rice is the staple ingredient in a lot of Japanese dishes. Sushi. Onigiri. Curry. But by far the easiest way to turn rice into a meal? Ochazuke. Simply fill up a bowl with leftover rice and zap it in the microwave until just warm. Then pour green tea over it, add a few garnishes — maybe sesame seeds, sliced scallions, crispy nori, a little broiled salmon — and dig in.
“It’s just so simple, so comforting, and it basically requires no cooking,” says Sakura Yagi, COO of TIC Restaurant Group, which operates 12 Japanese restaurants in New York city, including Sakagura, where they serve several versions of the dish. “When they are hungry for a snack, Japanese people traditionally will grab some rice and make ochazuke. Everyone has had ochazuke.”
Another reason ochazuke is so popular? Great marketing. Just like in the U.S., savvy companies have made a simple dish even easier by packaging a mix of green tea powder, seaweed, and crispy rice together in an easy-to-rip-open-pack, which you simply need to sprinkle over rice and add hot water for the fastest snack ever.
One of the most iconic brands, Nagatanien, not only has awesome yellow, red, and green packaging, but even more awesome commercials to help get you in the mood for some rice-and-tea. “These commercials really capture how people in Japan engulf ochazuke,” Yagi says. “I remember watching them as a kid in Japan and thinking ‘Hey, I want a bowl of ochazuke now.’”
The basic rice-tea-toppings equation also makes from-scratch ochazuke the ultimate use-it-up dish. Got pickled umeboshi plum or the genius Japanese seasoning furikake in your pantry? Add a bit to your rice. Instead of green tea, try vegetable or chicken broth, or dashi, for a quick take on chicken-and-rice soup. Stir leftover pickled or roasted vegetables; shredded roasted meats, poached fish, and/or steamed Asian greens into your rice. For a more refined version, try scallops and salmon roe. “If you want to make it fancy, you totally can,” says Yagi. “It’s just so accessible.”
Along with a great way to turn leftover rice into a meal, ochazuke is also the perfect ending to an elaborate feast. The dish is often served at the end of a sushi or kaiseki tasting menu. “In Japan, it’s called the ‘shime,’ or the ‘finish,’” says Yagi. “Like ramen or udon, ochazuke is a carb, but it’s not so heavy, so you go home nice and full.”
“Along with a great way to turn leftover rice into a meal, ochazuke is also the perfect ending to an elaborate feast.”
And it’s easy to see why no one can resist ochazuke: It’s comforting, it’s filling, it’s light but flavorful, and best of all, it’s easy. So next time you need a filling snack, grab that leftover rice, some tea, and a few extra ingredients from the fridge, and get ochazuke-ing!
Get the recipe: Scallop Tea Rice
More from Epicurious: