Connecting the foreign community in Okinawa

Easy Ochazuke (Recipes for Modern Okinawa #1)

This simple, easy and super-nutritions recipe for ochazuke in Okinawa makes a terrific lunch or dinner, and it can be surprisingly cheap.

If you’re new to Okinawa, you might be thinking about how to prepare healthy, hearty meals from easily available and affordable ingredients. Trying to shop in a store where everything is in a foreign language can be intimidating.  My goal in this post (and the series it’s part of) is to make shopping and cooking easier by showing you what to buy and how to combine it all in a super-easy recipe that’s perfect for anyone just arriving or here on a short stay. I’ll also show you how much (or how little) it costs to make this recipe here on the island, so you can see how it fits in to your budget.

In this post, I’ll show you a super-easy recipe for ochazuke. You can go right to the recipe if you like, or learn about the ingredients.

What is ochazuke?

Ochazuke is probably one of the most well-known foods in Japanese cuisine. The name is composed of three characters o-cha-zuke, or お茶漬, the first being an honorific ‘o,’ the second meaning ‘tea’ and the third relates to the idea of ‘pickles’ (as in tsukemono, 漬物, Japanese style pickled foods), but can also refer to soaking, moistening or steeping. Some sources claim that this character means ‘submerged,’ but personally, I like the other words better. There are more traditional ways to make ochazuke using various kinds of dashi (powdered fish, sometimes in little tea bags) as well as all the ingredients like shredded nori, salmon flakes, etc., but the simplest way is to make it from a commercial mix that can be purchased in literally any grocery store in Okinawa, and many convenience stores too.

Who eats ochazuke?

Fukugi trees, though relatively slow growing, can live as long as 300 years and there are trees in Bise approaching that age. Think about that for a moment. When you stroll through the streets of Bise, you are walking in the presence of trees, some of which were planted in the mid 1700s. Of course, most of the trees that line the quaint alley ways were planted much later, well after World War II. Many of the trees that stood before that area were felled for lumber during and after the Battle of Okinawa and some reports say that numerous fukugi trees were destroyed during bombing in the battle.

Brief History of Ochazuke

The history of Ochazuke dates at least to Heian Japan (794 to 1195 CE), when it was common to pour hot water over rice. It’s not clear who first came up with the idea of pouring green tea over rice, but it seems like it caught on pretty quickly and was considered a common restaurant food by the Edo preiod (1603-1868). Legend has it that the dish became popular among hard-driven servants of the merchant class, who, labor laws of the day being famously lax, favored meals they could wolf down quickly on their short breaks.

Nobody really knows when ochazuke made its first appearance in Okinawa, but given the historically robust trade between the mainland and the Ryukyus, it probably predates the Satsuma invasion of 1609. Post WW2, green tea over rice was one of the few foods that the average person could afford, and it is not an exaggeration to say that as the Okinawa rebuild itself from ashes, even pickles were a luxury.

Cost of Ochazuke in Okinawa

The cost of this recipe will depend on how much of each ingredient you use, what brand you purchase and where you buy them. In this post, I’ve included these details.

  • Rice ¥20 (approx for 1 serving)
  • Ochazuke Pack ¥32
  • Canned Fish ¥170 (dried fish is cheaper, but not as tasty nor as easy)
  • Kimchi ¥25 (depending you much you use)
  • Shashikusa Powder ¥30

Ingredients for Ochazuke

You can easily buy all of these ingredients at any supermarket i Okinawa. If they don’t have the brand you like, they can point you to what they have. 

Ochazuke Mix

Ochazuke mix including 梅 (plumb) and 鮭 (salmon). The specialized flavors are a bit more expensive, but we’re talking about pennies per package. The standard flavor for this brand comes in eight-packs. The others come in six-packs.

Rice

Any brand of rice will do for Ochazuke, unless you are a total rice snob (I mean that lovingly). I like to use rice marked with the characters 無洗米, or mu-sen-mai, which means “no wash rice.” Using mu-sen-mai saves you time and reduced water usage, since you can use it straight without the need to rinse off the starch.  

Canned Fish

My favourite fish for this dish is いわし (sardines), but さば (mackerel) is just as good. You can split one can between two people to save a bit of money, or just dump the can into your own bowl. This is what I do, because I love fish. Make sure it’s water packed to avoid adding weird flavors to the soup. 

Kimchi

I recommend this particular brand of kimchi (くらしモア or Kurashimoya) because it is properly fermented. Some brands are only flavored to taste as though they’ve been fermented and do not confer the benefits of fermented foods. The flavor will get stronger as the expiry date approaches. 

Sashikusa Powder

Sashikusa is truly a health food and this is a local brand produced by a lady in Nanjo down south. She got into the business after learning of the anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties of the plant, scientific name Bidens pilosa var Alba. It can be added to any soup or sauce without strongly changing the flavor and it’s an easy way to bring up the nutritional content of a meal (and trick kids into eating something healthy). 

Unlike the other ingredients, Sashikusa is not easily available in grocery stores. Organic shops will sell it. I get it at UruMarche in Uruma. It’s also available at Happy More in Ginowan or at most JA stores in Okinawa. If you live in Okinawa, it’s worth checking out these places. If you’re here on a short stay, this ingredient won’t make or break the ochazuke.

How to Make Easy Ochazuke

Here’s what you came for! This is the lazy but super cheap, ultra-nutritious and surprisingly delicious way I make ochazuke. Honestly, it can be even simpler than this. At a minimum, just add a store-bought mix to a bowl of leftover rice and pour boiling water over it. But nobody visits a website for recipes that simple, so I’ve taken it up a notch or two.

Super Easy Ochazuke

Course: lunch, dinner, snack
Servings

1-2

servings
Prep time

5

minutes
Cooking time

2

minutes

This recipe for 'tea over rice' is just one of many ways you can prepare it. I've included ingredients that give it a distinctly Okinawan flavor.

Ingredients

  • Cooked Rice

  • Commercial Ochazuke Powder (1pk)

  • Canned Fish (1 can)

  • Kimchi

  • Sashikusa Powder

Directions

  • Put cooked rice in a bowl.

  • Boil water.

  • Pour 1 pack of ochazuke mix over the rice.

  • Add kimchi to the rice

  • Open canned fish and pour the contents over the rice.

  • Pour the boiled water over the rice.

Recipe Notes

  • Using the contents of the can of fish ads a lot of flavor and nutrition. I advise using water-packed fish so as not to make it too rich or compete with the flavor of the commercial mix. You can substitute katsuobushi (dried smoked fish flakes) or even dried whole fish. Just make sure to add a bit more water, because these will absorb some liquid.
  • Use the kimchi sparingly if you don't like foods that are too spicy.
  • Sashikusa tastes and smells a lot like macha (green tea powder). You can use as much or as little as you like, but I recommend no more than a teaspoon per serving.
  • Make sure the water is hot when you pour it on the rice, particularly if the other ingredients come out of the fridge as leftovers. Otherwise, the meal will not be hot enough.

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