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Japanese Recipes: Gohan and Seasonings

Gohan - Rice

Japonica type rice, both glutinous and non-glutinous, was eaten plain or cooked with various add-ins (adzuki beans, mushrooms, chestnuts, etc). Until the industrial era rice was pounded with mallets to remove hull - this partially removed the bran. So through the 17th C. all rice was unpolished (not white) but not as "brown" as modern brown rice with entire bran intact.

Look for the Japanese brands, such as Nishiki or Sho-Chiku-Bai.

Boiling was the most common method in Japan since 13th C., known since Yayoi era: 

Boiled Rice

Combine 1.2 parts water to 1 part rice. Apply high heat at beginning, then less heat as water is absorbed (to prevent burning).

Steamed Rice: Used since 5th C for glutinous rice for special occasions, most common method through 12th C. The easiest way to steam rice modernly is to get a rice cooker.

For the Sword and Chrysanthemum feast, plain rice was cooked in rice cookers and then moved to steamer trays to stay warm. It was served heaped (but not packed) in small bowls, each garnished with a few black sesame seeds at the top of the rice mound.


The word "sushi" may derive from an ancient term meaning "acid" or "tart". The only sushi known pre-1600's was pressed sushi, with or without fish. Early sushi (narezushi) used rice as a medium for preserving salted fish but rice was thrown away. Different types of sushi evolved from the 15th century on, and eventually people started to eat the rice with the fish.

Kuri Gohan - Chestnut Rice

Serves 25

1/4 lb packaged chestnuts from asian market (not dried, but shelled)
5 cups rice
3/4 tsp salt

With a Japanese or Chinese rice cooker, pour 5 cups rice into rice cooker and fill to #10.
Add chestnuts & salt & stir. Secure lid and cook. Allow to steam 15 mins after done cooking, then stir again. Dish into bowls (heaped but not packed). Garnish with small heap of black sesame seeds.

Note: In my 10-cup rice cooker, I found that rice at the top was too dried out and rice at the bottom was too well done, hence the reduction to cooking fewer cups at a time.


Early Japanese food was prepared using very simple methods and a minimum of seasoning, so a diner was expected to use the seasonings in whatever combination they wished to make a dish suit his or her taste better.

Each diner was provided with a small portion of soy sauce (Kikkoman brand regular), rice vinegar (Marukan brand) and salt so that they could season their own foods. I note the brands because while one can find soy sauce and vinegar in any Asian grocery store, the non-Japanese varieties are often much stronger than the Japanese brands, and will overpower the delicate tastes of Japanese food. 

All content copyright the author, Jennifer Munson munson.jennifer@gmail.com The author makes no guarantees for instructions and recipes on this site; neither does she accept responsibility for their outcomes. Verbatim copies may be made for educational purposes only provided they contain original copyright marking.

This page created April 4, 2001

Last updated August 02, 2005