Ah, the infamous “fever” episode, where a member of the cast is waylaid by a bad cold and must be taken care of by any number of the main characters… It’s a classic trope that’s found in a large number of anime series, and which is often used to display character development and relationships. I love the vulnerability of the interactions between characters…
And, if there’s sickness involved, that means that rice porridge, or okayu, is almost guaranteed to make an appearance.
A great fever episode can be seen in episode 10 of Hanasaku Iroha, when Ohana develops a fever as a result of continually waking up early to help clean Kissuiso. She is told to rest, but attempts time and again to return to work in order to prove that she’s not a burden to anyone. But, after being told that the others can handle the work without her, she begins to believe that she’s not needed anymore, even contemplating going back to live with her mother.
Of course, everything works in the end, but not before Toru comes by her room with a tray of his homemade rice porridge topped with an umeboshi and drizzled with honey….
About the recipe:
Rice porridge is a dish that is made in many cultures, and which is known by many names. In Japan it is referred to as okayu, and in China it is called congee or jook. A version of this dish can be found in Indonesia, Korea, and even Portugal, just to name a few places. Each country has its own way of serving the rice porridge, with different toppings, spices, and consistencies unique to each type.
But, what all rice porridge has in common is its cooking method and its basic ingredients: boiling or simmering rice and water.
Rice porridge is seriously easy to make, and you don’t need any special ingredients or unusual kitchen tools either! All you need is rice, water, and salt.
Of course, rice, water, and salt doesn’t make for the most exciting dish, so what makes rice porridge so special? In short, it’s all the toppings and other ingredients that can be added to add flavour. In the recipe below, I’ve listed a few variations, but of course, you can be creative and make your own, personalized version of rice porridge.
Because rice porridge is easy to eat and digest, it’s the go-to dish to serve to a sick person. It can be made very plainly, which is often perfect for a person with a cold who cannot taste much, and whose appetite might not be very good. An egg can also be stirred in to add some protein and substance to the dish as well. In Japan, a common folk remedy for a cold is rice porridge with umeboshi (pickled plum), sometimes with a little honey drizzled on top too – just the way it’s served to Ohana in Hanasaku Iroha.
Just don’t expect to make a solid meal out of a bowl of rice porridge. While filling at first, the primary ingredient in this dish is water, with only a little rice in each serving.
About the ingredients:
Water is the other basic ingredient in this dish, but if you want more flavour, you can also add broth instead. I don’t recommend using broth if you want to add honey, since the flavours may conflict.
Freshly grated ginger, grated on a microplane, is a nice and flavourful addition to the porridge. Since ginger is believed to help with digestion, and has antibacterial properties, it is a nice ingredient to add especially if you’re sick!
Umeboshi is a Japanese pickled plum (“plum” is used loosely here, since the fruit is more closely related to an apricot), which tastes salty and sour, and slightly sweet. It’s often found in onigiri (rice balls), in bento, or as a general accompaniment to rice. It is considered good for digestion, the prevention of nausea, and a protection against the aging process. In addition, it is believed to contain antibacterial properties, thus making umeboshi part of an ideal folk remedy for colds and other sickness.
Honey is not what you would expect to eat with porridge, but it can be nice to drizzle on a tablespoon or two on top of the porridge, especially if serving to a sick person. Honey is great for soothing the throat, and adds a nice sweetness to the dish – which can be a great accompaniment if eating the rice porridge with the picked umeboshi.
Rice Porridge (Okayu)
Makes 4 servings
- 1 cup dried rice or 2 cups cooked rice
- 5 cups water or broth (and more as needed)
- 1 whipped egg
- 1 chopped green onion
- Sesame seed oil
- 2 tbsp grated ginger
1. If using uncooked rice, wash the rice under cold water to remove some of the starch. Place rice (cooked or uncooked) into a medium pot, add water (or broth), and set on medium-high heat. Add grated ginger, if desired.
2. When the water boils, lower the heat to medium-low and let cook, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Add more water or broth as needed in order to prevent it from burning or sticking too much to the bottom of the pot.
3. Once the rice grains have completely broken down, the rice porridge is complete. Adjust its consistency by either adding liquid (for a looser porridge) or cooking off any unwanted liquid (for a thicker porridge).
4. Once your porridge has reached your desired consistency, adjust the seasonings with salt. Stir in chopped green onion or whipped egg, if desired.
Serve hot. Top with umeboshi, sesame seed oil, or honey if desired.
Note: Only add honey if rice porridge was made with water (not broth). Honey goes well with umeboshi and grated ginger (but not well with whipped egg, green onion, or sesame oil).