As toppings or as a side…these are the best things to complement rice!

White rice is a staple of Japanese cuisine. It’s not unusual for it to be eaten at breakfast, lunch, and dinner of the same day, and it’s often even considered the main part of the meal. Japanese farmers take great pride in growing high-quality, tasty rice, so “tainting” it with sauces or toppings in a Japanese-style meal is frowned upon by some people.

So if rice is so important in Japan, it begs the question: which dishes are the best accompaniment to rice? Ranking site Minna no Ranking sought to find out. They asked 1,393 people to vote on their favorites, and here are the results.

30. Teriyaki grilled amberjack
29. Ikura (salmon roe)
28. Minced skipjack tuna
27. Sukiyaki
26. Salt-grilled saba (mackerel)
25. Mapo-nasu (eggplant in chili sauce)
24. Miso mackeral
23. Nikujaga (stewed beef and potatoes)
22. Mapo-harusame (glass noodles in chili sauce)
21. Sashimi

Rounding out the bottom ten are some pretty classic Japanese household dishes, like the various grilled fish dishes as well as nikujaga. We aren’t surprised to see sukiyaki on the list, since its salty-sweet flavor can be a little rich, which makes rice a great palate cleanser. The addition of mapo dishes, served in a Chinese-style chili sauce, is to be expected as well, since the strong flavor of these dishes pairs well with rice.

What is surprising to see, however, was the relatively low ranking of sashimi, which is a delicacy and popular food for many. We would have expected it to be a bit higher on the list!

Let’s see what ranked higher than these popular dishes.

20. Raw egg
19. Miso mackerel
18. Umeboshi (pickled plum)
17. Szechuan twice-cooked pork
16. Kimchi and pork stir fry

15. Chicken nanban (fried chicken in sweet and sour and tartar sauces)
14. Miso soup
13. Croquettes
12. Fried eggs
11. Salt-grilled sanma (Pacific saury)

On this part of the list, we see not just classic accompaniments to white rice, like miso soup, chicken nanban, and salt-grilled sanma, but also things that go great on top of rice, like raw and fried eggs and umeboshi. Also of interest in this half of the top twenty are three internationally-inspired dishes, (twice-cooked pork, kimchi, and chicken nanban have their roots in Chinese, Korean, and Portuguese cuisine) which reflect Japan’s broad palate.

You’ll notice that miso mackeral appears twice on the list. In the ranking, they’re written differently (one uses the kanji characters for “miso” while the other uses hiragana script) so we suspect it was a result of participants being allowed to enter their own choices. However, this means miso mackeral is an even more popular dish than these rankings imply!

10. Salted salmon
9. Hamburg steak
8. Tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet)
7. Yakiniku
6. Natto

And here we find, breaching the top 10, some of Japan’s most popular foods. Each of these has its own type of strong flavor, so it’s no wonder they would pair well with rice. Salted salmon, in particular, is a popular rice ball filling, but you could probably find any of these in a rice ball at one of Japan’s convenience stores.

5. Spicy cod roe

One of Japan’s most favorite rice accompaniments is the red-orange slab of fish eggs that originally hails from Fukuoka known as “mentaiko“. Its distinct spicy and salty flavor is a popular topping for rice and rice balls, complementing the mellowness of rice wonderfully.

4. Mapo-tofu

With two other mapo dishes making their way onto the ranking, we pretty much expected the most popular form of the Chinese chili dish, mapo-tofu, to be somewhere near the top. With ground meat, red peppers, Sichuan peppers, Chinese chili paste, Chinese fermented black beans, and tofu, this is a dish packed with flavor. You’ll want to have rice to go with it to cleanse your palate!

3. Gyoza (pan-fried dumplings)

Though gyoza are also a popular side dish at ramen restaurants, they’re also a beloved rice side. The dumplings are notorious for their use of strong flavors like garlic, chives, and onions, and the rice certainly helps balance out your palate.

2. Chicken karaage

The Japanese version of fried chicken is, without a doubt, one of the best. Juicy, crispy, and full of delicious meatiness, it’s a supreme comfort food. When some of that juiciness dribbles over onto the rice, it can make a heavenly flavor, and the combination of hearty chicken and flavorful rice is a very filling meal on its own.

1. Shoga-yaki 

Stir-fried pork fried with ginger sauce is a staple of Japanese home cooking. The sauce’s beautiful balance of sweet and spicy flavors complement the rice well, and served together with some other classics, like miso soup and a light salad, this is a filling meal of champions that many people can’t get enough of.

Which of these have you tried? Since these are all staples of Japanese home cooking–and of Japanese restaurant cooking–there are a lot of familiar foods on the list, but there are lots to try if you haven’t yet, so better get cooking!

Source: Minna no Ranking via Otacom
Top image: Pakutaso

Insert images: Pakutaso (12345678910), Gahag
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