NHK WORLD > JAPANESE FOOD > Special Features > The ABCs of Japanese Cooking #9 How to cook rice without a rice cooker

The ABCs of Japanese Cooking
#9 How to cook rice without a rice cooker

November 20, 2017

Hi, everyone! Welcome back!

Here in Japan, the air is starting to feel quite brisk and the leaves are putting on a dazzling display of autumnal colors. It’s harvest time, and I really have to be careful about keeping my appetite in check! There are a variety of freshly reaped foods to be found throughout the country. Freshly harvested rice, called shinmai (literally “new rice”), is so good. The usual time for shinmai to hit the market, hot from the paddy, is September and October. It’s lustrous, sweet, and slightly sticky when cooked properly. Stick with me as we explore the world of rice!

Types of rice

Before jumping into cooking, I'd like to touch briefly on the different types of rice. There are actually an incredibly large number of rice varieties cultivated throughout the world. However, the three main varieties of rice grown for human consumption are Japonica, Indica, and Javanica.

[Japonica rice]

This variety of rice is commonly eaten in Japan!
Shape : The grains are short and rounded.
Characteristics : Because of its high moisture content, cooked Japonica rice is soft and slightly sticky, but also fluffy and lustrous. The more you chew Japonica rice, the sweeter it gets. Even when cold, it doesn't lose much flavor.

[Indica rice]

This is the rice that boasts the largest volume of both cultivation and consumption worldwide.
Shape : Compared to Japonica rice, the grains are considerably longer, as well as more slender.
Characteristics : Fragrant when cooked, it’s fluffy and not that sticky, which makes it ideal for stir-fried rice, paella, and curry. Indica rice is also high in fiber, so it’s quite filling. It’s good for those who are on a diet!

[Javanica rice]

Compared to the two other main varieties of rice, Javanica rice’s yield is extremely small. It’s actually quite rare.
Shape : Javanica grains are the largest and thickest of the three varieties.
Characteristics : Javanica rice is not that sticky when cooked and, compared to Indica rice, does not have a distinct fragrance.

How to cook rice

Nowadays, most people in Japan tend to use rice cookers. However, it may not be easy to buy a rice cooker in some places outside Japan. Not to worry. It’s easy to cook delicious rice using a plain old pot with a lid!


Strainer, pot with lid, rice spatula, cheesecloth, bowl


300 g (360ml) rice
430 ml water (1.2 times the volume of rice)


1. Rinse the rice.

Pour the rice into a strainer and set inside a bowl of water.
Spread your fingers apart to form a claw and lightly stir the rice. Remove the strainer and discard the cloudy water. Replace the strainer in the bowl and add just enough water to cover the rice. Gently squeeze the rice and swish it around ten times. Discard the cloudy water, replace the strainer in the bowl, and add just enough water to cover the rice. Swish around once and drain. Replace the strainer in the bowl and, again, add just enough water to cover the rice. Stir gently. The water will still be slightly cloudy, but there's no need for further rinsing.

2. Remove the strainer from the bowl and drain the rice thoroughly. (Approx. 10 minutes)

3. Transfer the rice to a pot, add the designated amount of water, and soak for at least half an hour.

4. Cover the pot and cook over medium heat for 4-5 minutes.

5. When the lid starts to rattle, reduce the heat to low and cook for 12 minutes. No peeking!

6. Turn off the heat and allow the rice to steam for about 10 minutes.

7. Open the lid and fluff the rice with a rice spatula. It’s now ready to eat.

A word of advice

If you're not going to eat the rice straight away, cover it with cheesecloth and replace the lid. This is to keep condensation from falling on the rice. After going to all the trouble of cooking perfect rice, you don't want it to get it all mushy!

From Madam Akiko's Book of Trivia
1. Once you've got the hang of cooking rice, try adjusting the amount of water to suit your taste. If you like firmer rice, use less water. If you prefer softer rice, use more.
2. What should you do when you've cooked too much rice? I always freeze it while it's still hot. That preserves its flavor! Spread the rice out over a sheet of plastic wrap, cover, and then wrap with aluminum foil before freezing. To eat, simply remove the foil and microwave the rice while it's still wrapped in plastic wrap.

Mini Quiz

After a good meal, there's nothing like a good nap. But not until you answer my quiz!


When washing rice, it's best to rinse the grains gently, rather than rubbing them thoroughly.

The answer is: True!
Rubbing the rice will break or crack the grains, causing the starch to seep out. If that happens, you lose the opportunity to enjoy light and fluffy rice!

See also
#1 Soy sauce
#2 Mirin, sake, and miso
#3 Knives and cutting boards
#4 Basic cutting techniques
#5 Otoshibuta drop lid
#6 Chopsticks Part 1
#7 Chopsticks Part 2
#8 Dashi
#10 Dried foods
#11 How to make miso from scratch
#12 Homemade Tsukemono
#13 Mushrooms

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