Friday, April 3, 2009


I have to say, the routine of eating cereal for breakfast has long gotten old. It's true that on weekends when I wake up motivated I alternate between a strawberry puff pancake and eggs with toast and sausage, but that still leaves five days of the week with the same boring stuff. My wife dislikes cereal -- she says that my Cinnamon Life piled high with strawberries is too sweet, which is probably true -- but she admits that her own usual breakfast is equally boring: white rice with fermented soybeans (natto). Every day, the same thing.

But in the morning, when we allow ourselves to spend an extra five or ten minutes in the kitchen, there's some amazing and healthy eating just waiting to be had. We need to have the proper ingredients in our fridge and cupboard, but there are enough variations of this that it's still an easy breakfast.

For those of you unfamiliar with Japanese cooking, get your pens and paper and write down ochazuke. Ocha (お茶) in Japanese means "tea" and zuke (浸け) means "soaked." Although you can buy instant ochazuke in many Asian groceries, it's much more satisfying, not to mention healthier, to eat what you've prepared on your own.

Some friends I've introduced this to are dismissive of its potential to satisfy. "It won't stick to my ribs," they scoff, then high-five each other and do two or three jumping chest-bumps. "Whoot!" they shout before finally settling down. (They're American. They're also full of caffeine and sugar). Well, it's true that it won't stay with you the same way that a hearty breakfast of eggs, bacon, and a dozen pieces of buttered toast would. But I do believe that it'll keep you sated for just as long as cereal will.

If you can find the ingredients for ochazuke, try it out. If not in the morning, then have it as a snack. It is salty, but other than the high sodium content it's generally very healthy. Personally, I feel that the combination of all the ingredients pictured below is not only delicious, but it's fun. Texturally and flavor-wise, this is great stuff.

And here in Hawaii, where a 21 oz. box of Cinnamon Life cereal costs $8 with tax at Foodland, all these ingredients are comparable in price, if not cheaper, on a meal-by-meal basis.

Rice, steamed
1 umeboshi (pickled plum)
5 takuan slivers (pickled daikon radish)
1/2-sheet nori (dried Japanese seaweed), folded and crumbled
1 or 2 pieces shiojake (salted salmon)
Wakame furikake (dry mix of kelp-based seasoning for rice), handful
Green tea, boiled

Takuan (left), boiled rice (center top), and shiojake (right)

Nori pack (left) and wakame furikake pack (right)

1. Steam rice. (Or, if you're like us, microwave pre-made rice stored in the freezer.)
2. Add a big, juicy pickled plum. (Luckily for us, our umeboshi were hand-delivered by guests from Japan, who had obtained them from a renowned umeboshi maker from Kyushu. If you can, buy a kind that is known for being slightly sweet. Most umeboshi are face-puckeringly sour and quite salty.)

3. Crumble a half-sheet of dried seaweed and scatter it atop the rice and pickled plum.

4. Add a handful of takuan.

5. Add one or two small pieces of dried salmon. (Too much salmon overpowers the other ingredients, so start off conservatively.)

6. Boil a small pot of green tea. (We prefer loose leaf Japanese tea, as the flavor is strong and clean.)

7. After pouring the boiled green tea about 2/3rds up your bowl, add a handful of furikake seasoning. (While there are many kinds of furikake, we had wakame [kelp] furikake on hand.)

8. Enjoy, and don't be afraid to drink the leftover tea at the bottom of your bowl!

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  1. I am definitely intrigued by this recipe and I want to see if I can find the ingredients to make it! I hope my store has them!

  2. Unfortunately one cannot buy even half of these ingredients in Tasmania. But my mouth has watered anyhow. Is your wife Japanese? It must be fascinating to have a partner from another culture, and share cultural food ideas. As well as the added advantages of marrying someone who you love of course!

    I've just discovered that cooked rice goes very nicely in the freezer. What a time saver! It is annoying just to make rice for one or two people.

  3. I love learning from you. I must admit when I go to the big Japanese Grocery Store in dowtown LA the selection of dried seaweed is overwhelming. I often buy a prepared seaweed salad there and think I could make this! As long as I could figure out what seaweed is what. Nori, I I am comfortable making this and will. GREG

  4. Hmm. I got some umeboshi plums a while back but have yet to try then. I also have some dried seaweed lying around (wakame and kombu) which I really have yet to explore thoroughly, so maybe some version of this will get made. I would really like to explore those Japanese flavours more...

  5. Very interesting recipe! I wouldn't mind having this for breakfast at all.

    I can't believe the $8 price tag on a box of cereal!

  6. what a great way to start the day, i've got to try this sometime! (although green tea and rice are the only accessible ingredients in Poland) I'll probably have to save this recipe till summer when i return to asia, bummer :(

  7. Sapuche, this breakfast looks great! I will try to make this tomorrow morning! Thanks!

  8. I definitely want to try this! It's such a great reminder that the concept of 'breakfast' around the world is so varied. I've always wanted to try natto - I hope you'll consider posting a recipe of your wife's typical breakfast?

  9. This is one of the most interesting breakfasts I think I have seen. Different for me, but I would for sure try it. I agree with TN about how varied breakfast around the world can truly be. In Brazil it is most often white bread and butter with a shot of strong coffee (mostly with a ton of sugar). I can't seem to adjust myself to that so I take advantage of the fruit, eggs and even brought some Irish steel cut oats back from home.

    Cereal here is expensive as well, although not quite that much, but also not as much variety. We've gotten away from it almost entirely and I have to admit I do miss my bowl of bran flakes now and again. I do believe there are times I am desperate enough to give $8 for Cinnamon Life. Sometimes I just miss it that much. :)

  10. Thanks for the comment on my blog. It's always great discovering new food blogs and yours is lovely!

    I love ochazuke! There is something so filling and comforting about it. Love it for breakfast, love it for lunch, and love it for dinner! I use to bring it to work almost everyday. So simple, fast, and easy.

  11. 5 Star Foodie: If you have a good Asian grocery available you should be able to get all the ingredients. But if there’s a Japanese grocery in your community it’ll certainly have them! I hope you’re successful in your shopping. If you try it out, let me know how it goes!

    Maggie: Yeah, my wife’s Japanese. It’s definitely fun to share our different food proclivities, and since we also lived in Vietnam for three years we like to explore SE Asian cuisine as well. We’ll both try anything, though, which is nice. And you’re right, freezing cooked rice is a major time saver! I usually make enough rice to feed a small army, but then it’s always a struggle to find space in my freezer for it. I hope you can locate a good Japanese/Asian grocery in Hobart soon!

    Greg: Thanks for the kind words, but I can’t imagine anyone learning much from my blogs! If anything, your posts are consistently chock-full of information, plus they’re really entertaining! In any case, if you find yourself in the Japanese grocery store again and want to make this, just corner an employee and make them do your shopping for you. They’ll likely be too polite to refuse, though they may run away from you.

    Daily Spud: It sounds like you already have the vast majority of ingredients for ochazuke! Any version of this recipe will be good, so don’t worry too much if you’re unable to find one or two of the things I mentioned. There are many kinds of ochazuke, so the secret is really to put together one that suits your tastes. I hope you give it a try!

    Sugarlens: Yeah, and a half-gallon of soymilk costs nearly $6 here. I’m sure my normal bowl of cereal ends up costing around $3-$4. A bowl of ochazuke surely costs less. I’d imagine you can get most of this in Singapore, no? I hope so!

    Anjelikuh: I agree. I’m always happiest in the mornings after a bowl of ochazuke, though it’s also true that most food makes me happy. : ) Sorry to hear that Poland doesn’t abound with Japanese foodstuffs. I guess it’s not a huge surprise, but I feel for you! Anyway, I’m sure you’re looking forward to all the amazing food that awaits you this summer!

    Sophie: Were you able to make ochazuke, Sophie? If so, how’d it turn out? Thanks for your comment!

    Tangled Noodle: That’s one of the reasons I love traveling – all the different kinds of foods! Breakfast is one of the more interesting meals, I think, as we’re all in such a hurry to start the day and we’re looking for something fast and filling and tasty. Oh, and there’s not much to my wife’s breakfast. A recipe would include an ingredients list of “package of natto” and “white rice.” The directions would consist of “dump natto onto rice and mix small mustard pack (included in natto package) with food. Eat.” Like I said, it’s kinda boring…

    Lori: I was surprised to hear that in Brazil people’s breakfast often just consists of white bread and butter. I guess it’s no worse than a lot of the sugary cereals we tend to eat in the U.S., but it’s so sad. It’s prison food! It sounds like you’re eating well there, at least. You’re in a wonderful place for fresh fruit, and with those Irish steel cut oats I guess you’re in fine shape for breakfast! When I was in Vietnam I, too, missed my cereal. But then as soon as I returned to the States I missed my pho, egg and pate and veggie sandwiches, and sticky rice with shredded coconut. I’d definitely pay $8 to have any of those things now…

    Friedwontons4u: Thanks for your kind words about my blog! I’m glad to hear you’re a fan of ochazuke. It’s funny how some foods really take off when enough people learn about them, and even though this is full of “unique” ingredients I think that a lot of non-Japanese people would really like this. And I laughed when you said you love it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I’m in complete agreement with you. Thanks for your comment!

  12. Cinnamon Life is $8!!! Gosh. Definitely time to find a replacement breakfast. Agreed it is the most important meal of the day, so make it count.

  13. You always write about the most interesting foods! I think its amazing.Your photos look great.

  14. What an interesting dish... must try it someday! :)

  15. This looks amazing!! I have a tendency towards non-typical breakfast foods these days, and often find myself eating left-over fish and rice. Would love to give this a go sometime. Not sure if I can find takuan here readily- are there any good subsitutes you can think of? Or, maybe I can make it- what kind of flavors are in the brine?

  16. Duodishes: Yep. And today I spent $26 on five replacement razor cartridges and a ream of computer paper. $26!! If I wasn't so totally scruffed out today I wouldn't have bothered, but man, I was looking mighty Daniel Boonish. Plus my face was getting itchy. But why am I telling you this...?

    A Girl Has to Eat: Thank you! You should give ochazuke a go if you can. Sometimes Japanese restaurants have this on their menu, and even if they don't they'd probably be happy to whip up a bowl for you!

    Selba: Thanks! I hope you do!

    Sweet Charity: I'm the same way as you these days. I'm tired of the same old cereal routine, and the addition of fresh fruit only goes so far to make it more exciting. Eggs? Don't want the cholesterol. Pancakes or French Toast? Takes too long. This, however, is just what the tummy ordered. And hey, there's nothing wrong with leftover fish and rice as long as it tastes good and fills you up. As for takuan, pretty much any kind of pickled daikon will work -- and any self-respecting Asian grocery will have it. I have a recipe for this somewhere, but it would probably be difficult to find the rice husks necessary to make it. You don't really need the takuan for this dish, but the crunch and salty flavor is kinda nice. If you want the recipe for homemade pickled veggies (daikon, carrots, cucumbers) I could try to locate it for you on my backup drive (I hope it's still there). Just let me know. Maybe I'll do a posting, except that means I need to spend six weeks or more making it. :)

  17. Sweet Charity: Actually, it doesn't take six weeks to make your own. I'm not sure where that came from...

  18. omg. natto. reminds me of my mother...

    this looks delicious, btw...

  19. As a kid in Okinawa, I remember my oba-chan making something similar to this... I can almost smell the tea...

  20. oh this is interesting creation, hey I think I can get most of this ingredients here, must try this hehehehhehe :)

  21. I'm not sure what the rumblings in my stomach mean right now...this looks delicious, but I can't get my head wrapped around having this for breakfast! But I do adore Japanese food, so I might just have to ignore my die-hard American ways and give this a try.

  22. My mother is Korean so we never had sweet foods for breakfast. It was usually rice and seaweed and a little fish. We often didn't have kimchee for breakfast in an effort to save our classmates from kimchee breath.

    This breakfast sounds more yummy to me than any of the sweet stuff! Looks so fresh and delicious and healthy!

  23. Very interesting. Japanese cuisine is my culinary Achilles' heel. I just can't get it right. Most dishes look so simple, but are, in reality, not easy to make (to me, anyway). Thanks for these easy step-by-step instructions, Sapuche.

  24. This looks a thousand times better than Cinnamon Life! I'm a huge fan of savory breakfasts but haven't done much with rice bowls before. I'm saving this to try soon.

  25. iNorio: I can eat natto fine, especially with those mustard packs, but it’s never my first choice when other food is available. Are you familiar with ochazuke? Thanks for your comment!

    MyLastBite: I’m curious, how did your obachan make this dish in Okinawa? I’d love to hear what her recipe consisted of! Thanks for dropping by!

    Big Boys Oven: If you can get the ingredients, I hope you give this a try!

    Wicked Noodle: Yeah, when I first saw this I didn’t exactly jump at it, but all it took was one bowl to win me over! It’s also a nice, low-fat snack for the middle of the day.

    Gastroanthropologist: Rice, seaweed, and fish sounds like a really healthy and delicious breakfast to me. And kimchee breath, that’s funny! I go through periods in which I eat tons of kimchee, and then I won’t have any for a couple months. No one’s ever commented on my kimchee breath, though maybe they’re just being polite!

    Leela: It does take a little practice to get Japanese food right, and much of it has to do with simply having the right ingredients, which can be hard. I hope my instructions help you to make this successfully!

    Maggie: Ha! Yeah, it’s a lot better, actually, though I can’t say it goes great with coffee. :) If you give this a try, let me know how it turns out!

  26. A very different type of breakfast. I definitely would be open to try it, but not sure about husband as he is a very traditional person in terms of food. I will see if I can find these ingredients.

  27. Mediterranean Turkish Cook: Maybe you can trick your husband somehow? Have you ever tried to serve him breakfast blindfolded? If he refuses to eat it, saying that he's traditional, just tell him "It IS traditional. In Japan..." And if all else fails, if you like ochazuke then just make a lot of "Mmm" and "Yummm" noises while you eat, and maybe he'll demand a bite before you finish it all. That always works on me when my wife is eating something I say I don't want to try. :)

  28. This dish looks delicious, I'll have to give it a try - definitely a weekend adventure. The problem for us is that we run in the morning so we're literally grabbing breakfast and running out the door afterwards.

    My first trip abroad was to Japan, so I had to smile reading your post. I was never a big cereal eater, and certainly preferred Grapenuts to fruitloops or the other sweet stuff. But not being accustomed to the savory breakfast there with the broth and rice I found myself absolutely craving fruitloops for no apparent reason.

  29. I'm so excited to try this the second I get home tonight! We're spoiled here in Sydney, Australia - so many amazing Asian grocers, you can find just about anything!
    I've just started making my own onigiri (and going a bit overboard, I'm making them daily and experimenting with fillings and presentations - I LOVE it ha ha) which is what led me here. Thanks so much, I smell another Japanese dish that will become a regular in my kitchen :)