What is that one comfort food you crave for during chill wintry nights or when you are terribly sick? Well, soups of course, but there’s something more comforting than a bowl of soup and that is none other than Okayu, a type of rice porridge eaten in Japan.
Okayu is a simple dish made with rice and water, seasoned with salt which uses a ratio of 5:1 (zen-gayu) i.e. 5 cups of water to 1 cup of rice. It can be cooked in less than 30 minutes and can be topped with green onions, salmon, ginger, vegetables and pickles to enhance the flavour. Sometimes Miso and dashi is also used to flavour the broth.
Most often the Okayu is served as a food to people who are ill since it’s soft, easy to swallow and digest and helps them recover faster. It is also commonly served to infants as the first solid food and is consumed by the elders as well.
A type of okayu called the nanakusa-gayu known as the “seven herb porridge” is served a few days after the New Year with special herbs which is believed to protect against evils and invite good luck and longevity in the new year. It also serves as a break from the heavy and rich food that is eaten on Japanese New Year.
Okayu can be made using a rice cooker and if you don’t have one you can soak the rice for a while in water and then cook it with 5 cups of water on stove top.
Step 1: Wash and clean 1 cup of rice and soak it in water for about 15 minutes (this will ensure that the rice is cooked softly even if you’re cooking it in an electric cooker or on stove top).
Step 2: Now transfer the rice to a cook pot and add 5 cups of water and cook on stove top without a lid covered on it. When the rice starts to boil, mix it using a ladle or a wooden spatula so as to avoid the rice from sticking to the bottom.
Step 3: Bring down the heat and cover a lid over the pot and cook for about 30 minutes until it has been cooked completely and reaches a pouring consistency. Add a pinch of salt and top it up with your favourite pickle, vegetable or fish and serve immediately.
You can also make this with brown, black and red rice. If you’re a great fan of green tea you also have an option of making Okayu with the same by replacing water with green tea, which is known as Cha-gayu or tea okayu and is a speciality of Nara.
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