The first thing to learn before you start cooking Japanese food at home is how to wash and cook Japanese rice properly. Click here to see my post on washing and cooking Japanese rice.
To understand the importance of rice in the Japanese diet you only need to look at the word ‘gohan’, which means both meal and rice. A typical Japanese home-cooked meal always includes a bowl of rice accompanied by soup and several other communal dishes, including vegetables, fish and meat, to give a nutritionally balanced meal.
I lived in a rural village called Nishiyama on the western coast of Japan for two years. It was surrounded by endless rice fields and mountains. There I got to truly experience the importance of rice in Japanese society. I remember one neighbour who warmly welcomed me to Nishiyama village with gifts of his own harvested rice and seasonal vegetables. I became good friends with him and his wife, and learned so much from them about Japanese food and culture. One day they brought me along to their rice field to watch their son plant rice seeds. After witnessing the hard work involved in planting, cultivating and harvesting rice, I gained a deeper appreciation for this sacred grain.
At home I prefer to serve rice in small Japanese-style bowls rather than on plates, as it’s easier to control portion sizes this way. The concept of communal eating and the use of chopsticks during eating also help control the amount of food eaten during a Japanese meal, without people having to make a conscious effort to do so.