Spice Things Up With These 5 Savory Rice Toppings!

  • FOOD
  • Have you ever wondered how to easily liven up some plain white rice? There are a few wonderful options that you can try in Japan. I have written about rice toppings before, but there are also great side dishes to compliment your staple starch. From simple to more bizarre, they all pair well with white sticky rice. After all, Japanese people love to eat plain white rice, but we also love to pair it with delicious ‘Okazu’ – side dishes! Here are 5 of the topping for those who like their rice on a more of a spicy and salty side. Eat up!

    5. Kimchi – Korean Pickled Cabbage


    Although a traditional Korean dish, it is very popular in Japan, with various companies producing it from domestic cabbage, and adjusting the recipe for local tastes. Japanese kimchi tends to be a little lighter in terms of spiciness and sourness compared than the Korean one. I prefer the Yoshinoya packaged brand. It is not too spicy, not too stinky, but not sweet. I hate sweet kimchi, after all, if I wanted something sweet, I’d eat cake.

    4. Mentaiko – Fish Eggs


    A gift from the sea. Mentaiko is delicious, and far more affordable than caviar. It comes in a variety of brands and flavours, from spicy to plain. I find the best place to buy is is, of course, the basements of department stores and specialty shops. After all, if you are going to splurge on delicious seafood, it might as well be good! Check out various fish eggs in more detail here. Don’t be put off by the looks, just put some on your hot white rice, and enjoy.

    3. Tsukemono – Japanese Pickles


    So many options! Sweet, spicy, sour, bitter. The choices are endless. You can check out this article on the different types of pickles, or how to make your own, but the best thing to do is just buy a few different packs and experiment. Then, when you find the one you absolutely love, go out and buy a more expensive, preferably hand-made brand. Take some white rice, pop it in your mouth, add some tsukemono, and munch away. Or, just do what I do, and eat them as a salad. Pickled Japanese radish is amazing, and pickled ginger is just what you need to warm up your tummy and body on a cold day.

    2. Umeboshi – Pickled Plum


    These are ubiquitous, found in a large variety of shapes, textures, and tastes. They are also popular filling for the rice balls, or cut up and mixed with rice. While most people have seen these, and automatically assume they won’t like them, they are very healthy and good for digestion. The smaller, salty crunchy ones are often found in boxed lunches, but the big soft juicy ones are best for eating at home. Again, they can be from sweeter to a little salty and all the way to super sour. Umeboshi are a popular food for mixing with rice porridge for those feeling under the weather. Just be careful, they usually have pits! I can’t tell you how many times I have seen a foreign person excited to try them, bite in, and be shocked to find a rock hard centre. Eat carefully!

    1. Rakkyo – Pickled Shallots


    Oh my. Yes, you have reached nirvana. Like the fish eggs, they come in a variety of flavours, from sweet to spicy, and at a variety of prices, from 100 yen and up. These things are often found at curry shops as they go great with curry, and are generally paired with a variety of dishes. The best ones are homemade of course, but if you aren’t feeling up to pickling your way through a big bag of shallots, check out farmers markets or smaller mom and pop shops. They usually have big bags of homemade rakkyo there, and trust me, they are worth every penny.

    Overall, if you are apprehensive about spending a lot on some rice pairings, just be sure to sample a few different ones when you are eating out. If you find the one you really like, take a picture, and search for it in the supermarket. There are many more options than the five shown above, so if you see something interesting sitting in a small dish next to your rice, be adventurous. The worst thing that can happen is that you will find something to avoid, but hopefully find something that you love!

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    Dazzle your Tastebuds with the 5 Unique Japanese Rice Toppings!