Essentials of Japanese Cooking: Oseibo


The spirit of cooperation and coexistence permeates Japanese culture in so many ways, from washoku to coexistence with nature to how relationships are nurtured.

Giving gifts is a long-standing tradition among the Japanese, especially at the end of the year with the tradition of oseibo.

Oseibo is the custom to show goodwill and gratitude to those who have contributed to one’s life, such as to relatives, bosses, or caretakers. Oseibo gifts are often items that the recipient uses every day, such as condiments, cooking oils and sauces, detergents and cleaners, as well as specialty items like alcoholic beverages, gourmet sausages and seafood. Gift certificates also make popular gifts. Oseibo gifts never go to waste, as the items are always useful!


Department stores frequently setup special sections for oseibo gifts, with the monetary value of gift options ranging from 2000-5000 yen, or 20-50 US dollars. Once an oseibo gift has been selected, how it is packaged and presented is just as important as what it contains. Each gift is packaged nicely and wrapped in special decorative paper labeled with language specifically denoting that it is an oseibo gift. The gifts are either delivered by the store or online retailer or given in-person following the Japanese tradition of giving and receiving with two hands.

Oseibo traces its roots to the Japanese custom to pray for one’s ancestors’ spirits during obon in July and on New Year’s Day. During these times, neighbors and relatives used to exchange the offerings. This tradition turned into gift giving, once in the summer (ochugen) and once at the end of the year (oseibo). Today, oseibo is practiced as a custom to show formal respect and gratitude.

Processed with VSCO with s3 preset

Oseibo gifts at a Japanese market

Because oseibo gifts are practical as well as pleasing, recipients always find creative ways to incorporate their gifts into their lives, especially when the gifts are of food items or beverages. An oseibo gift of whiskey or brandy turns into a lovely hot toddy during the cold winter months. A gift of smoked seafood turns into a lovely terrine de poisson or seafood jeon. And gifts of gourmet meats and sauces can be used for barbequing and stir-frying teppanyaki.

What do you think would make a nice oseibo gift? And if you receive an oseibo gift, what do you plan to make with it? Let us know in the comments below, and from Zojirushi to you, we hope you have a great end of year!

Passport to Yum – Zojirushi’s Favorite International Rice Recipes


Have you made perfectly delicious rice yet? Now that you know all about rice, we want to share our favorite recipes for this versatile and nutritious grain… not just from Japan, but also from across the globe!

Rice is an ancient food, and many cultures have created sophisticated, comforting dishes using local ingredients to satisfy regional tastes. We start with rice dishes from Asia, including Japan, China, India and Pakistan.

Takikomi-Gohan (seen above) is a popular rice dish that emphasizes the classic Japanese culinary tradition of using seasonal ingredients. At Zojirushi, we’ve created a recipe full of flavorful vegetables, konnyaku, tofu, chicken and dashi. This preparation can easily be made in one of our rice cookers, and makes great leftovers—make a large batch and refrigerate for no-brainer lunches throughout the week.


Chinese rice porridge, or congee

China is famous for comforting rice dishes, too, including the classic rice porridge, also known as congee or okayu. Rice porridge is mild and filling, and is often had for breakfast or during an illness, as it is easily digested and soothing to the stomach. Japanese, Indian, Burmese, Korean and Indonesian cultures made a version of it, and we love this classic rice porridge recipe that you can make in our food jars.

India and Pakistan share a classic rice dish called biryani. Biryani is made by layering ingredients such as chicken, lamb and vegetables with long-grain basmati rice, and seasoning it with milk and a complex combination of spices like saffron, chili, cardamom, turmeric, ginger and garlic. The dish is slow, slow, slow cooked, until all of the ingredients are tender and have soaked up the seasonings. It’s not to be missed!


Zojirushi’s Fava Bean Risotto

Europeans, both from the western and eastern parts of the continent, savor rice as well. The classic risotto is popular in Italy and around the world. The most basic risotto is made with medium-grain Arborio rice, slowly cooked in wine and broth until it becomes creamy. Popular variations add mushrooms and peas, and we love this recipe for Fava Bean Risotto. Italy’s neighbor Spain is famous for its paella, and we love this classic version with shrimp, mussels and clams.

Eastern European rice dishes are heavily influenced by the spices of Asia and the Middle East, and Uzbek plov is a prime example of the blending of these cultures. Plov is made using long-grain rice, mutton, carrots, onions, oil and water, mixed and cooked in an open cauldron for hours until the aroma of the dish is utterly mouth-watering. Plov is often served with chickpeas, raisins and eggs, depending on the time of day it is eaten. Plov also has an interesting history, and it is said to have been made for Alexander the Great and his army.


Crawfish etouffee (photo by jeffreyw)

The Americas have their own special rice dishes which are consumed with as much gusto as their friends on other continents. Crawfish etoufee is an elaborate and spicy dish consisting of shellfish and spices “smothering” the rice and braised in a large sauté pan. Arroz de lisa is a distinctive Colombian dish prepared with mullet rice, cooked cassava melon, costeño cheese and a piquant sour cream sauce. The rice is served in a bijao leaf and often eaten as street food.

Rice as a whole grain isn’t the only way it’s eaten across the world. Rice in the form of noodles is incredibly popular, and some of our favorites are Singapore Noodles, redolent with curry, onions and bell peppers, along with spicy, coconut-infused laksa from Malaysia, pho from Vietnam and the ever-popular wok’d chow fun with Chinese broccoli.

Rice, rice noodles, rice paper, rice dumplings… the variety is endless! We hope you try some of these recipes… and as always, share your creations with us in the comments below.

What is Rice Really?: Growing Short-Grain Rice


Rice, rice and more rice… we continue our series about What Is Rice Really? after having explored the plant, and short-grain, medium-grain and long-grain rice. Have you tried any of the recipes we’ve suggested yet?

While you were cooking rice, have you ever wondered how it actually gets from its beginnings as a tiny seed to your kitchen?

Growing rice—especially in Japan—is an endeavor both large and small. The careful attention that rice farmers pay to each minute detail of the rice growing process leads to the crop yields that feed the Japanese people. Farmers consider two things as they grow rice:  the plant itself and the environment used to grow it.


Tilling the rice paddy

Rice farmers care for the rice plant from dormant seed through harvested food. Rice seeds were originally gathered from wild rice plants; however, in modern times, rice seeds are carefully selected and stored from previous harvests, as well as hybridized in cultivation facilities. The type and quality of the seed is hugely important to the type and quality of the yield in any given growing season. Rice seeds are the unhulled, unprocessed grains that are selected from the rice crop during harvest. Good seeds are generally of uniform size, will germinate 80% of the time, are free of pathogens, and produce seedlings that are vigorous.


Seeds can be sown in a rice field in one of two ways: either through transplantation or direct seeding. Transplantation uses pre-germinated seeds that are sprouted in a seedbed comprised of water, nutrients (such as compost) and soil, generally indoors to protect them from contaminants and animals. Once the seeds have sprouted and have established themselves, they are transplanted, either by hand or by using a seeding machine. On the other hand, direct seeding allows farmers to broadcast ungerminated seeds in fields, and let them establish themselves wherever they fall. In larger farms, and especially in Japan, farmers transplant seeds to better ensure a safe and predictable harvest.

Growing rice is only possible when an environment is created that will allow the plants to flourish. Rice farmers are incredibly concerned with the quality of the soil, the quantity and purity of the water, the heat of the sun and protecting the plants from diseases and pests. Managing soil is the first step in rice production. During a Japanese winter, soil lays fallow and is allowed to rest. In the beginning of spring, around the time when cherry blossoms are in full bloom, rice fields or paddies are tilled, which means the soil is dug up, churned, and aerated with straw. Farmers amend the tilled soil with fertilizers, such as compost or nitrogen and potassium, and begin smoothing the rich, loamy land in preparation for drenching with water.


Fall rice harvesting

Water in Japan is a vital resource–from rain, to rivers, to reservoirs–and rice is grown using wet cultivation. In the spring, the smoothed, tilled land is flooded with water to a uniform depth, and then planted with seedlings. Every day, the water level is monitored to ensure that the plants grow with adequate hydration, and that water is flowing with nutrients along flat fields and terraces. The intense heat of the summer months, combined with nutrient-rich soil and plentiful water, helps the rice plants to grow tall and healthy. Along with watching the water levels, farmers look out for insects that seek to consume the plants, weeds that want to overtake the growing areas and diseases that could infect the plants every day. You may have seen images of green rice paddies, but a successful crop grows tall and becomes golden through the summer, until it is ready for harvest in the fall.

Have you ever visited a rice field? We’d love to hear your experiences… and stay tuned for next month’s post about harvesting rice in Japan. The harvest season is an important time throughout Japan, when Japanese people share rich stories, traditions and festivals!


What is Rice Really?: Long-Grain Rice


We continue our series about rice with information and recipes about this staple food by discussing long-grain rice—one of the most well-known types.

As with medium- and short-grain rices, long-grain rice is classified by its size. Grains are slender and usually four or five times longer than they are wide. The grains are 7mm in length or longer, and when cooked, result in separate, loose and soft grains. The majority of long-grain rice is grown in Northern India, Bangladesh, Thailand and other parts of Southeast Asia, parts of China, Jordan, Yemen, Iraq, Egypt, and Argentina, Brazil and the United States in the Americas. The many types of long-grain rice include basmati varieties, fragrant jasmine and upland rice. The origin of long-grain rice contributes to its aroma, flavor and texture.


Not only is long-grain rice distinct from medium- and short-grain rice in terms of size, texture and flavor, but it’s also processed somewhat differently. Long-grain rice kernels are more fragile than the shorter varieties, and require more delicate handling. Milling the rice requires a series of discs and rollers for removing the tough outer husk and inner husk one at a time to produce unbroken polished white grains. When packaged for export and sale, long-grain rice is usually stored in hard plastic containers or tightly packed into jute or burlap bags lined with hard plastic fibers, in order to protect the grains. Due to the more intense processing cycle, long-grain rice is often more expensive to buy, leading some countries to produce and export long-grain rice at a higher price, and import less expensive, potentially lower quality, rice to feed their people.


Spicy Basmati Rice with Lentils and Spinach

The expense is often worth it. Long-grain rice has been used to create iconic dishes from so many cuisines across the globe. Full of flavor and aroma, the grains are used for Biryanis from India, Pilafs from the Middle East, Red Beans & Rice from the United States, and even plain boiled long-grain white rice as a staple in Southeast Asian dishes. Some of our favorite recipes include Thai Green Chicken Curry with fragrant jasmine rice, Gumbo Bowl and Spicy Basmati Rice with Lentils and Spinach. We love all of these! And when you make them, be sure to use long-grain rice… these fragile, distinct grains have such a unique texture—you’ll definitely love the results you get from using the right type of rice!

Let us know what you tried, and share your recipes below!

What is Rice Really?: Medium-Grain Rice

mediumgrainriceWe continue our series about rice this month with an exploration of medium-grain rice!

Medium-grain rice is classified as such because of its size, with each grain measuring two to three times longer than it is wide (or, in more scientific terms, between 5.0 – 5.99 mm in length, and possessing a grain shape with a ratio of 2.1-3.0). When cooked, medium-grain rice tends to be moist and to stick together, although the stickiness varies depending upon how it is prepared. Asia produces the largest amount of medium-grain rice, but it’s a popular crop elsewhere in the world, as well.  In the US, medium-grain rice is grown in Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Missouri and Texas.  It’s becoming an important crop in Africa and Latin America, too.

Different types of rice are suited to different types of cooking; for example, short-grain rice is the most common type used in Japanese cuisine, and long-grain rice, which we’ll talk about next month, is the most common type used in gourmet Indian and Middle Eastern dishes. Medium-grain rice also has its special uses. In Japanese cuisine, especially when made outside of Japan, medium-grain rice is often substituted for short-grain. It is also heavily consumed in parts of South India, the Caribbean, Sub-Saharan Africa, West Africa, Central America, South America and in parts of Europe—especially Italy, where it is ideal for risottos. In the US South, medium-grain rice is used in puddings and desserts.


Fava Bean Risotto

Medium-grain rice is used in some of the most delicious recipes! You can find an excellent recipe for Fava Bean Risotto, full of savory creaminess perfect for the spring crop of fresh fava beans. We also recommend this beautiful Arroz con Pollo, where the cook’s who’ve tried the recipe prefer using medium-grain rice to long-grain rice—and how about this spicy Cajun Jambalaya created by Emeril Lagasse? Don’t forget to finish it all off with this classic British Rice Pudding!

Medium-grain rice is versatile, nutritious and perfect for so many kinds of dishes.  We hope you enjoy these recipes and please let us know how they turned out. Stay tuned for next month’s post about long-grain rice and more great recipes!