Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Rice with butter and soy sauce バーター醤油ご飯

This may not be post-worthy but I realized this represents a regional way of eating rice peculiar to the "Hokkaido dialect" of Japanese food culture and may be worthwhile to "document". Although many Japanese really appreciate (or pretend to appreciate) simply cooked white rice for its subtle flavors, many Japanese children and Westerners find it boring. (Many Japanese adults may also harbor the same opinion privately but do not want to appear unsophisticated or childish by expressing it). Even those who appreciate plain white rice sometimes want additional seasoning.

Furikake seasoning ふりかけ is the mixed seasoning used for this very purpose. It is very popular even in the U.S., and many different varieties are available; some are made specifically for kids and some are for adults. I even know somebody who uses furikake to season cottage cheese (Could that somebody possibly be my wife?). I made the big mistake, early in our marriage, of showing my wife, the way I used to eat rice when I was a kid. I just added a pat of butter to hot rice, let the butter melt first and then mixed in soy sauce as seen below. It had been a long time since I had rice that way. My wife immediately took a liking to it and this is her favorite way of eating fresh, piping hot, white rice. In horror at what I had unleashed I had to warn her about the impropriety of enthusiastically putting together her "favorite" rice at a restaurant. While eating rice for dinner at my mother's house in Sapporo, I reminded my mother of how she used to serve butter and soy sauce rice to me as a kid and how I had made the mistake of introducing my wife to the dish. My mother abruptly put down her chopsticks, got the butter out of the refrigerator, distributed it all around followed by the soy sauce. While mixing the ingredients into her rice she mentioned she used to eat her rice like that as a kid but hadn't eaten it in a long time. She took a bite, sighed and said it sure was good! 


I thought this was a fairly common way for Japanese (especially kids) to eat white rice but apparently that is not the case. This appears to be peculiar to Hokkaido. I guess that makes sense since dairy and specifically butter production are primary industries in Hokkaido.

It is always a bit iffy to season plain white rice in public by doing such things as pouring soy sauce, broth or simmering sauce from, say simmered fish 煮 魚 or miso soup over the rice. But many Japanese will do exactly that in private. If I pour miso soup over my rice, I would call it にゃんこめし meaning "cat rice" but, for people from other regions of Japan, "cat rice" is rice topped with bonio flakes and soy sauce and, they may call it "nekomanma" ねこまんま (the meaning is the same, i.e., "cat rice"). The fact that there is a specific name for this type of rice (albeit a bit derogatory) indicates many Japanese are eating rice in this (unacceptable) manner.  I do not recommend doing this in public, however. Why such doctoring of rice is frowned upon by Japanese is "not logical" as Mr. Spock would say. After all, many donburi どんぶり dishes are made using rice in a seasoned broth with toppings and dishes called hiyajiru 冷や汁 and ochazuke お茶漬け are indeed rice in a broth. It appears that as long as it is prepared in the kitchen or is meant to be consumed this way, it is a "legitimate" dish and can be eaten in public. But if you improvise at the table by pouring soup over rice, it is not OK; go figure. I think there was a lengthy discussion on this subject (in Japanese).

If you have not tried this butter soy sauce rice, I strongly suggest you try it, at least once, and let me know if you like it. You could eat this with seasoned and roasted nori "ajitsuke (yaki) nori" 味付け(焼き)海苔 which was my favorite way of eating rice as a kid (and even now). I am not responsible if you find the comforting flavor of this dish addicting.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

This has been an old favourite in my family as well, thanks to my granddad who spent most of his youth in Japan (my family isn't from Japan). The only difference if that we use margarine instead of butter. I thought it was common as well but it seems those who know it, know it and those who don't... well, they don't.

Uncle N said...

Thanks for the comment. Is your granddad spend his youth in Hokkaido?

Uncle N said...

Thanks for the comment. Is your granddad spend his youth in Hokkaido?

Bees Under My Bonnet said...

I saw this way of eating rice in the drama 'Shinya Shokudou' and am planning to try it as soon as I have some good butter and hot rice in hand.

Uncle N said...

Thanks for letting me know. I will take a look at "Shinya Shokudou".

Uncle N said...

Hi BeesUnerTheBonnet
We looked at the episodes of Shinya Shokuodo. The butter rice was in series 1 episode 5. We (my wife and I) did not know about this show. We watched episode one by one to come across to this episode. It awakened all my childhood memories of butter rice. it was an extremely poignant. This is a great show. Thank you for letting us know about it.