Monday, October 12, 2009

Okayu (Japanese rice porridge)

One of the most frequent questions I get from people to whom I'm explaining this October challenge is, What do you eat for breakfast? Fair question. Normally, I don't eat breakfast. I drink a big glass of orange juice and a big soy latte, and that holds me over until lunch. I can't even pretend to be any kind of authority on what Japanese people eat, but it seems to me from my basic researches that they generally eat things in the morning they might also eat at any other time of the day: miso soup, rice, and so on. Japan doesn't seem to have a special breakfast cuisine the way, for instance, the Americans or the English do.

That said, I did find a nice breakfast recipe in Three Bowls: Vegetarian Recipes from an American Zen Buddhist Monastery, by Seppo Ed Farrey and Myochi Nancy O'Hara. This is okayu, or rice porridge.

Okayu. Isn't that a nice sound? I could call my son Okayu, though after a recent conversation with a Chinese co-worker who told me this is a fairly common occurrence in China and Hong Kong with English words, and she knows people whose names are Milk, Clitoris, etc., because they or their parents just liked the sound, okay, yes, I would try to refrain. I mean, he might grow up to be a businessman working in Japan, and how much respect could he command if his name was Porridge?

But okayu, the breakfast food, is excellent. It didn't sound excellent; it sounded bland and yucky and kind of non-breakfasty, but this month is all about exploring different flavour palates and I am having one "green eggs and ham" experience after another. I do, I like it, Sam-I-Am!

According to Three Bowls, "Rice porridge, known as okayu in Japan, has been the traditional breakfast in Zen temples for centuries." Cool. So what you do is:

Okayu (rice porridge)
Serves 1 hungry person or 2 light eaters

1/3 cup brown short or medium grain rice
2 cups water

The night before, wash the rice well, drain it, and place it into a small saucepan with the water. Bring to a boil, then remove from heat. Let sit, covered, all night.

In the morning, place the covered pot over medium high heat and continue cooking, stirring from time to time and adding more water if needed (I didn't need it) until a porridgy consistency is reached. For me, this took about half an hour. You can add cooked beans to the rice if you like near the end (like azuki beans; I did).

Now spoon it out into bowls and add your savoury condiments:

roasted sesame seeds
nori, shredded
scallions, thinly sliced

I used all of these, and man was this unexpectedly delicious! It really was. I had made my own kimchee prior to taking on the challenge, the recipe for which I will blog sometime because I think that what I actually did could be improved on, but this added a lot to the final dish.

Was this easy to eat with chopsticks? Yes! The rice, like most short grained rice, is very sticky and tends to clump together, and this method of cooking makes it even more clumpy, and now that I've been using chopsticks for a while, I think that even after October 31 I'll continue to do so with certain dishes because it adds something to the eating experience when your mouth envelops and tastes the whole bite, not just what's on top of the spoon.

So, yes! Okayu! Japanese breakfast food! Two thumbs up!


  1. Sounds really good! I sometimes mix nuts or beans and shoyu with rice for a quick breakfast, but didn't know it had a name. My yoga instructor says she ate oatmealwith shoyu when she stayed at a zen center here in the US.

  2. This sounds so good. This is such a healthy thing to eat for breakfast especially; all that fiber and protein gets the metabolism going.

    Sometimes I make "breakfast pasta" but brown rice is so much healthier.

  3. I often prefer Japanese foods for breakfast. I'll have to give this one a try!

  4. "a la marge"(sorry I dont know the proper expression in english) of you wanting to call you son Okayu: When I was wandering around internet searching for some recipe for Unohana, that I actually found at your blog - Thank you for that:) - I have found on some manga pages, that Retsu Unohana is a very positive and respected Manga female character - A captain of some division and a healer. So you see, maybe your son Porridge wouldn t miss resperct in Japan:)