Eat your whites

Perhaps you were not aware, but did you know people eat a lot of rice in Japan?  It’s true!  The smallest bag of rice I can buy at my local supermarket is 1 kg, ranging up to 10 kg bags.  Almost every meal from breakfast to dinner involves white rice of some description.  The really interesting thing for me is that while rice might be considered a side dish elsewhere, in Japan rice is often considered the main part of the dish, and the meat or vegetables a side dish.  In fact, the word for rice (gohan) can be used interchangeably as a word for “meal”.


A while ago I went with a good friend of mine visiting Japan (hope you had a good flight home!) to a traditional Japanese restaurant near the Edo Museum in Ryogoku.  The meal was delicious – grilled fish, sashimi, sweet beans, miso soup and rice.  At the time, I was experimenting with a low carb diet and so ate everything but the rice.

When the proprietor came over, a lovely, motherly women in her 50’s, she noticed my untouched rice.  “But you haven’t eaten your rice!” she said, shocked.  In Japan, this is not only seen as the equivalent of not eating your vegetables, but it’s also quite rude.  Going to lunch with my co-workers, they will generally eat rice to the very last grain, leaving a perfectly clean bowl.

Still, rude or not, the low carb diet seemed to be having positive effects on my energy levels.  A rude, energetic me seemed like the preferable option to a sluggish, polite me.

Not wanting to get into much depth, I just told her I had an allergy to rice.  “Oh,” she said, “but that’s terrible!  I’ll be right back.”

In under a minute she was back with two plates of chiffon cake.  “Please, this is free!  I don’t want to see you starve.”  After everything else we’d just eaten, I didn’t see how that was possible, but still!  Although the cake also violated my low carb diet, there was no way I was going to refuse such a kind, thoughtful offer.  Plus, who can say no to free cake?

Although the service in Japan is generally of a spectacular level, this was definitely a case that will stand out in my memory for quite some time.  If you happen to be in Tokyo and get along to the Edo Museum or the National Sumo Stadium, let me direct you to this lovely little restaurant – you won’t be disappointed.


8 thoughts on “Eat your whites

  1. I’ve often worried about what I’d eat if I were ever to travel to pretty much any asian country – not being able to eat gluten means either an extremely awkward conversation on what that actually entails, or me _just_ having the rice. And some soy sauce, simply because I seem to be able to tolerate that.

    • Yeah, it would be pretty tough to avoid gluten here, though not impossible. The low carb diet I tried was really more avoiding gluten – it’s difficult to go to restaurants and not eat it at all.

  2. Have you tried brown rice?

    It takes longer to boil and you must boil it with more water or else it will feel like eating rocks.

    The good thing is it has heck of a lot of fiber, tastes better(My opinion only) and you can only eat a little bit before you feel stuffed. All this combined makes for a lower carb intake than white rice.

    • Some restaurants here have brown rice, but the vast majority have white rice. You have to go out of your way to find anything else.

  3. ok, so now that you have some rice experience under your belt (I assume by now you can taste the difference of this season’s rice to, say, last years like we exclusively have in Aus 🙂 )… can you tell me what pseudo miraculous powers the 600,000円 rice cookers have that the $90AUD ones don’t?

    Every time I ask my wife she just guffaw’s and walks away :). I know this means something but which end of the spectrum of something is it?

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