How to cook rice, a brief guide

My neighbor has a daughter, 16 years old, who loves Japan, Japanese culture and so on. She reminds me of myself when I was sixteen,1 since she loves Japan but has little practical experience with the culture yet.2 My neighbor told me one time recently that she and the daughter wanted to make rice at home, but neither of them knew how, and the result wasn’t very tasty.

So this post is dedicated to my neighbors and everyone else who wants to make proper rice, but doesn’t know how. I am not Japanese, but I worked for years in a restaurant in high-school, and the owners were from Japan.3 The restaurant owners took their rice-making pretty seriously, so I learned some good tips from that, plus lessons learned from my wife.

Essentially, making rice involves several universal steps:

  1. Wash the rice in cold water a few times to get out the white powder.
  2. Optionally, strain out the water further for about 30 minutes.
  3. Fill up the water just right. If you don’t use a rice-cooker, then you put your hand flatly on the rice, and fill up the water to where the top of your middle finger connects with your hand (the back knuckle).
  4. Cook on high heat until the water is a rolling boil for one minute.
  5. Turn down heat to simmer for 30 minutes.
  6. Do not remove the lid for any reason, or rice will dry out.

In our case, we do use an electronic rice-cooker, specifically the Tiger-brand 5.5 cup rice cooker. Zojirushi is another excellent brand, both are good choices. Anyway, I make it every night using haiga rice, which is somewhere between white rice and brown rice (the husk is removed, but the nutritious germ is still there), so this is my nightly routine. With an electronic rice cooker, you can measure the water more accurately, and it manages the cooking part. A good rice cooker will also have timer that will let you set it to cook in the morning, and the rice will be finished cooking at that time:


Here’s the bowl of our rice cooker:

Making Rice

Rice expands when cooked, so here I made three small cups which is enough to feed a family of three for a whole day.

Now I wash it:


There’s some confusion about what the white powder is when you wash off. I don’t know what it is, but I know that if I don’t wash it off, the rice looks cloudy and doesn’t taste as good, so it’s usually washed (or “polished”). Anyway, wash it three times at least, and use cold water only.

Optionally, you can further strain out the water like so for about 30 minutes, but it’s not strictly required:


In our case, we just set the rice to cook (or timer) and it’s done. It’s often a good idea to let it steam a little longer with the lid closed, even when the cooker is done, as this will help it cook a little more.

One way to tell the difference between good, gourmet Japanese white rice and the cheaper stuff is to look at it when cooked. The good rice will look really bright and clear, almost shiny, while cheaper stuff will be white, but more mushy looking. That “sheen” is a sign the rice is cooked right, and good quality. Besides the usual rice we eat daily, we also have some gourmet rice from Niigata Prefecture, which costs about $25 for a 2lb. bag, but we save that for special occasions. For me though, spending $25 a week on good rice is still better than spending $25 eating out for a single night (lasts longer too), so I think it’s sometimes worth spending the money on nice foods if you make worthwhile purchases. For my daughter’s sake, it’s a good reason too. And yes, you can taste the difference; the gourmet Niigata rice is quite good.

Also, on the subject of white rice, it’s very common in Japan to add other grains before you boil it. Millet is a common one to use (and easy to get in the US), but other seeds and grains are used too. Sometimes you can buy nice “multi-grain” packets that include many types of seeds. The rice will probably change color to red, brown or even purple, but it’s still very good and even more nutritious. Below is a photo I took after I wrote this post, showing rice we cooked with a sauce with shiitake mushrooms:

Rice with Shiitake Mushrooms

It was quite, quite good. :)

Anyway, that’s a look at cooking rice. I know from experience that this is a very similar process in Korea, and I think it’s probably true in China, Vietnam and Thailand too, even though the species of rice will differ.

1 Certain blog readers who knew me from that time may still remember too. ;)

2 I am happy to report she earned a field-trip to Japan for 2 weeks this Spring. Let’s hope she has a safe flight and a good experience. It’s always good for young adults to travel to other parts of the world. I wish more people would do it (I didn’t until much later).

3 I found out the owner died from cancer a few years back, and the owner’s father who was the sushi chef passed away around that time too. R.I.P. The restaurant and the mall it was in are both gone too. A poignant reminder of Buddhist impermanence…

4 Comments on “How to cook rice, a brief guide”

  1. Jeremias says:

    The white powder is usually starch, to make it more shiny.

  2. John Gordon says:

    First off, I think your blog is great! I was brought up in a Chinese Pure Land household, though I’m a Tibetan Buddhist. I’ve always loved reading about Honen in particular, in addition to Shinran.

    Would you be able to add a search engine or tag system to your blog? I was hoping to search through your archive of posts to focus strictly on the Buddhism related posts. Also, there was a blog post you made on how to use the Jodo Shu Juzu. I was interested in how it’s used with the extra ring for counting. Any possibility of making a short youtube video for it? :)

  3. johnl says:

    1. The whiteish water that you pour off the rice after washing is good for your plants.
    2. A friend told me that the rice for prisoners in Japan is not washed before cooking.
    3. You can buy a special product in Japan that will provide the extra grains and extra nutrition that can be added to rice before cooking. Never used it myself.

  4. Doug 陀愚 says:

    Hi Everyone! Sorry for the late replies:

    Jeremias: That’s what I thought. I read somewhere women in Japan used that dust for facial powder too. :)

    John Gordon: Welcome to the JLR and thank you. I saw you on the JSBG too. As for the search engine, thanks for the idea. I setup one yesterday and a category list. I’d do tags, but it’s too late to backfill all the posts I think. I’ll give it some thought.

    Johnl: I wasn’t aware of the plants idea. That’s pretty interesting. I’ve used the extra grains and such (sent from my in-laws in Japan) and I like it a lot.

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