Stewed seaweed and beet green pickle tea rice.  AKA konbu tsukudani and beet green tsukemono ochazuke.

Pictured here is one of my favorite ochazuke toppings, sweet, salty, stewed seaweed. Say that fast three times.

The literal translation of ochazuke is akin to ‘put in tea’. I think the definition in Wikipedia is pretty spot on, Ochazuke is rice with or without toppings, usually in a bowl, on top of which tea is poured. It is customarily slurped from the edge of the bowl and shoveled into one’s mouth with chopsticks. (You can see an example of this technique in an upcoming post.) However, there is nothing wrong with using a spoon if that sort of table manners makes you feel uncomfortable. In our household, our English speaking children call ochazuke ‘tea rice’.

Ochazuke is a common every day food, much in the same way as sandwiches are. It is eaten on most days. It can be improvised using left over items in the fridge. It can be eaten as a breakfast, snack, lunch, or dinner. There are also well known, famous, classic versions. It is a comfort food, steaming and soothing; and this is where the sandwich analogy breaks down. Ochazuke is craved for the rehabilitation of colds, hangovers, upset stomachs.

My earliest memories of ochazuke, are watching my mother eat ochazuke alone in the kitchen. When we were young she would call us kids into lunch where she had prepared sandwiches, usually made with her left over teriyaki chicken. After we had eaten she would clean up the table, and then pull the slide-out cutting board from the side of the counter. She would get a bowl of rice, a pot of tea, and take out a jar of pickled herring and some tsukemono from the fridge and plop it all down on the cutting board. She would then pull up a chair and commence eating her quick lunch of ochazuke.

Herring in wine sauce

I thought it was such an un-appetizing meal – pickled herring, but she would always tell me that she loved it. I suppose back in the ’60’s, it was not easy for her to find food compatible to her tastes. It must have been the best she could do back then, because now with so many asian grocery options, I can’t remember the last time I saw her eat pickled herring.

By the way, I don’t know how many years it was until one day I saw a friend’s mother pull out a similar slide out cutting board at her house, and gasped when she actually cut bread on it. I had never seen it used that way before.

Photo Credit: “Herring in wine sauce” by Ray Sawhill licensed under CC BY 2.0.