There are many ways to enjoy Japanese rice porridge, whether you're feeling sick or just hoping to warm up after being in the cold. By adding things such as meat, eggs, and vegetables, you can make a hearty and filling meal out of simple ingredients.

When the weather gets colder or you start to feel ill, it’s time to break out some classic Japanese comfort food. Okayu and zosui are perfect dishes to counteract a winter chill or seasonal cold! Read on to find out more about these two meals and the different ways you can make them.

What Is Okayu?

While Westerners may reach for oatmeal to warm themselves on a cold morning, okayu is much more popular in Japan. Although originally created in China, okayu has been being served in Japan for over 1,000 years. Truly versatile, it is now enjoyed by babies and the elderly alike, and by everyone else, as desired. This is a type of rice porridge created by cooking rice with extra water so it is thick and a bit soupy. The ratio is typically 1:5, with five times as much water as rice! Similar to chewier, steel-cut oats, okayu is a hearty dish that is simple to make and easy to enjoy.

At its most basic, it can be eaten plain or with a pinch of salt. This would be advisable if you have an upset stomach. However, you could also add an umeboshi (a pickled or salted plum) for a bit of flavor and sweetness. If plums aren’t your thing, other types of tsukemono—pickled vegetables—can be added to your okayu. These will also give the benefit of added nutrients, important when you’re under the weather.

To make okayu, follow these steps:

  1. Rinse 1/2 cup of Japanese white rice and drain.
  2. Put 2.5 cups of water and rinsed rice in a heavy-bottomed pot and let sit for half an hour to soak.
  3. Boil the water and rice over medium-high heat, then turn it down and simmer for a half hour.
  4. Stop the heat and let steam for 10 more minutes.
  5. Season and add toppings as desired, then enjoy!

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Okayu Variations

Looking for something with even more vitamins and minerals? Try tamagogaku, or “egg okayu.” As in classic okayu, cook rice with plenty of water. Once it has come to a boil, add a splash of sake, a pinch of salt, and some dashi powder. Whisk an egg, then add it to the mix and continue cooking. This will give you some extra protein and boost your immunity. Other popular additions include salmon, salmon roe, sesame seeds, green onion, and ginger.

Another variation you can try is called nanakusa gayu. This is an herbed rice porridge that includes a festival of flavors and is traditionally enjoyed after the excess of a Japanese New Year feast. This is because it is a great way to settle the stomach and help it recover after overeating. Nanakusa gayu is made like typical okayu, with the addition of seven types of herbs. The seven herbs are:

  • Gogyo (cudweed)
  • Hakobera (chickweed)
  • Hotokenoza (nipplewort)
  • Nazuna (shepherd’s purse)
  • Seri (water dropwort)
  • Suzuna (turnip)
  • Suzushiro (daikon radish)

Because most of these herbs aren’t used in traditional Western cooking, nanakusa gayu has a uniquely Eastern flair. However, if you are unable to find any of these herbs, typical substitutions include basil, chervil, chives, cilantro, fennel, mint, and watercress.

What Is Zosui?

The uniqueness of zosui comes from boiling already-cooked rice with dashi stock. Other common flavoring ingredients are soy sauce or miso, both of which will add a great umami taste to the dish. Zosui was first invented because it used to be difficult to keep cooked rice warm, so people would add cold rice to their miso soup to warm it up again. Talk about a great way to use leftover rice after a big meal!

In zosui, the cooked rice is usually rinsed first to increase its stickiness. Similar to okayu, zosui is a perfect option when you’re beginning to feel under the weather or getting over a seasonal illness. Many people choose to eat okayu while feeling sick, and zosui once they begin to recover. It can also be made to warm you up from the inside out during the chillier months.

Zosui Variations

A popular way to enjoy zosui is with a variety of meats and vegetables, such as chicken, fish, mushrooms, or crab. Zosui is commonly created by adding rice to the remainder of a hot pot dish, making an easy after-dinner treat. Many people also enjoy adding a whisked egg, like in tamagogaku, for extra substance.

Another variation is known as ojiya. Although many people use the words zosui and ojiya interchangeably, they are not necessarily the same dish. With ojiya, the rice is not rinsed first. Therefore, it is less sticky than zosui, and tends to lose its shape when boiled.

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