Inspired by JustHungry-Maki’s excellent explanations on how to make Japanese rice balls (onigiri), as well as seeing a recipe for onigiri in the Failsafe Cookbook, I rushed to Meidi-ya supermarket 30mins before closing time and bought some Japanese rice (uruchi-mai). The supermarket trip was quite a learning experience.
Country of origin
I noticed that the uruchi-mai rice was grown in:
*America [one had the brand name 加州, Chinese for 'California'; that packet was printed in English and simplified Chinese only]
*Vietnam [the Meida-ya Singapore house brand]
Anything under S$20 for 2.5kg was not from Japan, and the Japanese-origin rice went up to over S$60 for the largest sacks! The cheapest American-origin brands started at just under S$7. A few were Singapore rice-companies sourcing American-grown Japonica rice.
Some brands had a little clear window on the packaging, so I tried to scrutinise the rice grains of different brands & prices looking for the qualities explained here.
Varieties of uruchi-mai
Although these were all Japanese-style medium-grain rice, Japanese rice is categorised into different strains (which may also be related to the original place it originated from in Japan). I saw at least three different types, but most of the brands of rice were either Akitakomachi or Koshihikari. Quite apart from the country of origin of the rice, you also need to pay attention to the particular strain.
Mostly we look for expiry dates on food packets. However I noticed that the rice from Japan was stamped not with the expiry date, but with the date of milling. The packs I looked at ranged from Feb 2007 to June 2007 (wow so fresh!). Some had the words ‘New Crop’ but ‘new’ is relative, isn’t it? so best to check the date of milling.
I was disappointed that some non-Japanese origin brands didn’t even have an expiry date, and it seems to me that those packed in paper sacks wouldn’t be as fresh as those in vacuum-sealed plastic packaging?
Some of the brands were labelled as ‘no wash’, but all the internet comments seem to indicate that these taste terrible. Yuck, reminds me of ‘quick-cook’ rice in British supermarkets.
Other types of Japanese rice
1. Genmai – the brown rice version of uruchi-ma, yes it’s the stuff in roasted rice tea (genmai cha)
2. Mochi - short-grain, sweet rice. More glutinous, used for making sticky mochi cakes, which always reminds me of Chinese mua-chee (in Hokkien), even in the similarity of the names. Mochi can also be eaten as cooked rice, for example in dishes like this Festive Red Rice (with azuki beans). [Mmmm, omit the sesame seeds and it's Failsafe :)!]
In the end, I chose something that wasn’t the cheapest, but had to pass on all Japanese-origin brands because they were just too expensive (;_;). [But this article on agrichemicals in Japanese rice is thought-provoking; I don't know how it compares to the rice grown in other countries; if you're worried, you'll just have to go organic.] I settled on Tamaki Gold Koshihikari.
I made two cups of raw rice worth, using the ‘Sushi’ setting on my fuzzy logic rice cooker, and finished off three-quarters of it at tea time in the form of onigiri :)! Each grain was shiny, sticky, and very delicious :).
Here’s an interesting web forum thread on choosing Japanese rice.