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Recently, our Japanese-language reporter Hotaru has been a little down in the dumps. She’s not sure if she’s come down with a cold or is just feeling the doldrums of the dreaded Gogatsu-byou, but either way, she needed a boost.

Realizing that good health and a good mood starts with good food, she headed into the kitchen to whip up a batch of porridge. But not just any old porridge would do for helping Hotaru shake off her funk, she needed to recreate the porridge that picks up the heroine of classic anime Kiki’s Delivery Service.

Hotaru was inspired by a scene in the film in which little witch Kiki gets sick, and her mentor/landlady Osono whips her up a bowl of milk porridge. She had a bit of a problem though, as DVD’s of the Studio Ghibli’s 1989 hit don’t come bundled with cookbooks, and director Hayao Miyazaki hasn’t been returning our phone calls recently.

So, recreating the dish was going to take a little sleuthing. As we’d found out during our last Kiki-inspired cooking project, the artists took their primary inspirations from the Swedish cities of Stockholm and Visby. Sweden actually does have a traditional type of porridge called risgrynsgröt, and we figured this was the version of the dish Osono was most likely to have prepared for Kiki, so we found a recipe and got to cooking.

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1.5 cups water
1/2 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup rice
1 cup milk or cream
A little salt
Sugar, honey, cinnamon, nuts (to taste)

1. Wash rice
2. Boil water in a pot, add washed rice and butter
3. Cover, occasionally stir lightly, and wait for the mixture to boil
4. Mix in milk or cream, cook for an additional 3-4 minutes

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5. Add seasonings to taste

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Risgrynsgröt turned out to be a lot easier to cook than to pronounce, and it tasted pretty good too, especially with the cinnamon and nuts. Still, this wasn’t quite what Hotaru had been hoping for.

Many countries throughout Asia, the Middle East, and even North Africa have their own versions of milk porridge. Each tends to have strong flavors, making for a fortifying breakfast before a hard day’s work or a sweet treat. What Hotaru was craving, though, was something more in line with okayu, Japan’s take on rice porridge.

Okayu tends to be lightly seasoned with salt, making it a lot easier to digest than the tasty but rich risgrynsgröt. As a result, okayu is a common meal eaten by hospital patients or even just people resting at home as they try to kick a cold.

Hotaru did a little more digging, and found that while it’s not necessarily the most common way to eat okayu today, there was a time when adding milk to it was in fashion. In 1871, soon after Japan had opened up its borders to overseas visitors and influences, a newspaper article was printed that mentioned that the Imperial family enjoyed eating rice porridge mixed with milk, which was seen as a sort of superfood due to its high nutritional content.

But could this fit with the time and place of Kiki’s Delivery Service? Considering that Kiki’s friend Tombo is obsessed with the new science of flying, and a blimp coming to town is seen by all the residents as something to get excited over, we’re pegging the movie’s events as happening somewhere between the 1920 and the mid-1930s, a timeframe that means Japanese-style milk porridge existed.

But how would Osono, a simple baker, know about this dish from half-way around the world? Well, the city the film is set in is a port town. Hotaru’s theory is that a sailor passing through town told Osono about this Japanese dish he’d heard about in his travels that’s supposed to be just great for people who’re under the weather.

There was still one last thing bugging us, though. The rice porridge Kiki eats in the film has pieces of something in it, which isn’t the case with the Japanese version.

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After a few moments of thought, Hotaru came up with an explanation for this, too.

“In the west, people think chicken soup is good for a cold, right? I bet Osono tossed some chicken into the porridge.”

Unable to immediately poke any holes in Hotaru’s logic, and too hungry to try very hard anyway, it was back into the kitchen for round two of our anime cook-a-thon: Japanese-style milk porridge.

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1.5 cups water
1/2 cup rice
1.5 cups milk
50 grams (1.8 ounces) chicken tenderloin
Salt (to taste)

1. Wash rice
2. Boil water in a pot, add washed rice and diced chicken

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3. Cover, occasionally stir lightly, and wait for the mixture to boil
4. Mix in milk, cook for an additional 3-4 minutes
5. Add salt to taste

Now this was what Hotaru needed. Simple, easy on the stomach, but comforting and healthy, it had her back to her usual, perky self in no time.

You could even say it worked like magic.

Top image: Hatena
Photos: RocketNews24, Hatena
[ Read in Japanese ]