Ochazuke: Japan’s Comforting Bowl of Green Tea with Rice
Ochazuke, or chazuke, is a dish made by pouring green tea over a bowl of cooked rice and toppings. As the range of ingredients varies so widely, ochazuke can be prepared as simple and affordable dish, with instant packets of ochazuke providing a quick yet healthy alternative to fast food, or it can be made in a more gourmet style, using ingredients such as premium koshihikari rice and high-quality sencha tea. Wholesome and filling, this green tea with rice dish is the ultimate Japanese comfort food.
History of Ochazuke in Japan
Ochazuke has a long history, and has been enjoyed in Japan for over 1,000 years. As far back as the Heian period (794–1185), people began pouring hot water and tea over cooked rice. During the Edo period (1603–1867), drinking green tea became more widespread and many began to prepare ochazuke with tea in place of water. From the 1950s, instant ochazuke packs became available in Japanese supermarkets, making it even more convenient to eat. Today, green tea with rice is a beloved dish enjoyed by people of all ages across Japan.
When to Eat Ochazuke
Ochazuke can be enjoyed anywhere from the comfort of one’s home to upscale restaurants. In homes, it’s commonly eaten as a quick meal at any time of day. Because ochazuke is gentle on the digestive system, it can be eaten to soothe an upset stomach or heartburn, or even as a cold remedy or hangover cure. A steaming bowl of ochazuke is regarded as a comfort-food favorite, lovingly prepared for children by their mothers. Due to its simple preparation, ochazuke is also a popular food among students and bachelors.
In restaurants, ochazuke is usually presented as the final or near-final dish. It is served anywhere from casual izakayas (Japanese pubs) to kaiseki meals at fine dining establishments. On a night out enjoying food and drinks with others at an izakaya, ordering the ochazuke is a common way to wind down the evening and signal that you’re ready to head home. In traditional Japanese kaiseki dining, ochazuke is often served as the final dish of a course meal before dessert. Recently, trendy ochazuke specialty restaurants have been growing in popularity, and ochazuke cafés are marketing their stylish takes on the traditional comfort food as a fresh, healthy dining option to young women.
1. Start with Rice
Every bowl of ochazuke starts with cooked rice. Short-grain Japanese white rice is standard, but brown rice can be used a healthy alternative. Ochazuke is a great way to use up any leftover rice you have in the refrigerator.
2. Add Toppings
Your ochazuke toppings can be tailored to your particular tastes, as well as to whatever ingredients you have on hand, making it a useful way to clear out your fridge and pantry. Start with a protein—typically fish or seafood—such as grilled mackerel, sea bream, flaked salmon, squid or octopus sashimi, oysters, tarako (salted pollock roe), mentaiko (marinated cod roe), or shiokara (salt-pickled seafood). You can also prepare a thin Japanese omelet and slice it up to make kinshi tamago topping. For a more luxurious meal, try adding crispy salted salmon skin, charcoal broiled eel, or fresh uni (sea urchin), or tsukudani (meat simmered in soy sauce and mirin rice wine) to your ochazuke. You can also experiment with Western-style toppings like grilled chicken or smoked salmon.
Vegetable elements may also vary - try adding some tsukemono (pickled vegetables) such as pickled cucumber, takuan (pickled radish), or umeboshi (sour plum), followed by wakame seaweed or kizami nori (dried shredded seaweed). You can also add freshly sliced Japanese herbs such as mitsuba (Japanese parsley), shiso (perilla herb), mizuna greens, and aonegi (Japanese scallions). Then, season your dish with freshly grated ginger, wasabi horseradish, or sesame seeds. You may also want to add some crunch to your ochazuke with a topping like tenkasu (fried tempura crumbs) or arare (rice crackers).
3. Pour Hot Tea—or Another Hot Liquid—over Your Rice
Hot liquid is the final component of ochazuke. This is usually green tea, hence the name—ocha means “tea”, and zuke means “to submerge” in liquid. However, other teas such as genmaicha (green tea with roasted brown rice), hojicha (roasted green tea), and bancha (strongly flavored green tea made with tea leaves harvested later in the season) can also be used. Some people enjoy their ochazuke with dashi, a Japanese broth made from kombu seaweed, bonito fish flakes, shiitake mushrooms or a combination of these. In a pinch, plain hot water can also be used. Whether you use green tea, dashi broth, or hot water, be sure to pour the liquid around the edge of the bowl taking care not to disturb the perfectly piled ingredients. Allow the hot liquid to soak up into the rice, and then enjoy!
Try This Classic Japanese Tea and Rice Dish at Home or in a Restaurant
Ochazuke is a versatile, easy-to-make, and highly satisfying meal that’s beloved by people throughout Japan. Beyond making it at home, check out these restaurants in Japan where you can enjoy a steaming hot bowl of authentic ochazuke.