The Rice Dish That Warms the Soul: Kamameshi
Rice is at the heart of so many Japanese dishes and while we’re all familiar with things like sushi and donburi, one rice dish you may not be familiar with is kamameshi. Kamameshi is a popular dish consisting of seasoned rice cooked in a pot, called a kama, and topped with a variety of ingredients including vegetables, meat and fish. This differs from other rice dishes in that all the ingredients are cooked together, with the rice forming the first layer in the pot followed by the other ingredients placed on top and all the flavours circulating while cooking. The results are typically served still in the cooking pot and you mix them together yourself before eating.
Background and History of Kamameshi
The history of kamameshi isn’t well documented for such a relatively recent dish, but it’s said to have originated in the 1920s in the aftermath of the Great Kanto Earthquake which left many people homeless and without food. People would gather together to eat rice communally. Partially inspired by this act of communal rice eating, the modern version of kamameshi was created by the owner of a small restaurant in Asakusa called Kamameshi Haru, a restaurant that still operates today. From this small beginning, kamameshi became popular throughout Japan and as its popularity grew, many different variations of the dish began to appear. Kamameshi is typically cooked and served in an individual pot, usually made of metal though sometimes clay pots are used. Because people don’t usually have this type of specialised cookware at home, authentic kamameshi is usually only found in restaurants. That said, a version of the dish can easily be made at home using a rice cooker. Kamameshi is also popular in the form of an ekiben, a special lunchbox sold at specific train stations. There are many stations in Japan that have their own variation of kamameshi as an ekiben.
Common Ingredients in Kamameshi
Of course, the most important ingredient in kamameshi is the rice. This is put in the pot first and then topped with all the other ingredients along with soup stock usually made with dashi, soy sauce and cooking sake. Common toppings include chicken, vegetables and prawns. The pot is then steamed and served, still in the pot. Opening the lid of the pot and having the fragrant steam waft up in front of you makes you want to dive into it straight away!
Delicious and Unique Versions of Kamameshi
From kamameshi’s humble beginnings in Tokyo, it has become a dish popular throughout Japan and as such has come to have many different variations. Sometimes these are based on local cuisines and climates but because kamameshi is so easily customisable, people often come up with their own variations at home. Ingredients such as exotic meats and fish and even fruits and nuts can be used. Let’s take a look at some unusual yet delicious variations that have recently started to become popular.
This delicious version of kamameshi is made with corned beef, onions and green pepper. It originated in home kitchens in Tokyo and was introduced to the public at large as part of a kamameshi showdown on popular variety show Aiba Manabu. Its simple ingredients make it a very popular version of kamameshi to make at home and its colour gives it a real visual appeal.
This is an unusual variation of kamameshi based on a popular Chinese dish called rebanira in Japan. Pork liver (reba) is seasoned with soy sauce, sake, salt and pepper and cooked with garlic chives (nira), bean sprouts and shredded ginger. Put together in kamameshi, it makes a great combination.
A regional variation of kamameshi originating from Hagi city in Yamaguchi prefecture, this version contains fresh sea urchin (uni). Uni is a speciality of Hagi city and often appears in the local cuisine. This version of kamameshi is topped with uni making for a potent combination of flavours.
Cheese and tomato
Another unusual combination, this dish is also known as a margherita kamameshi. This is another kamameshi variation introduced on Aiba Manabu and was the winner of the show’s kamameshi showdown in 2019. The ingredients for this are very simple: tomatoes, salt and pizza cheese cooked along with the rice in the pot. Once done, it’s sprinkled with black pepper and fresh basil and there you have it, an amazing Italian-inspired kamameshi dish.
Where to Enjoy Kamameshi
There are many kamameshi restaurants throughout Japan. Of course, if you want to try it at the place it all began, there is the aforementioned Kamemeshi Haru in Asakusa. With its 80-year history and use of high-quality ingredients, it’s a very luxurious way to experience the dish. For something a little more homely, there are a variety of kamameshi chain restaurants all over Japanese including Kamatora and Kamafuku. However you choose to enjoy kamameshi, it’s easy to find no matter where you are in Japan.
Kamameshi also appears in several unique ekiben, which can be purchased at specific train stations around Japan. Perhaps the most famous of these is Toge no Kamameshi from Yokokawa Station in Annaka City, Gunma prefecture. This Kamameshi ekiben includes chicken, shiitake mushrooms, green peas and apricot. Best of all it comes in its own little clay pot that you can take home with you. There are many other lines and stations that have kamameshi ekiben including Kaen Kamameshi at Nagaoka station in Niigata prefecture and Yatsugatake Kogen no Kamameshi at Kawaguchiko Station in Yamanashi prefecture.
Warm-Up with Kamameshi
Kamameshi is a simple but hearty Japanese dish that is particularly great to eat on colder days or days where it’s pouring rain outside. It has a unique fragrance that can warm you from head to toe just from breathing it in. Though kamameshi is difficult to find in Australia, if you have a rice cooker it’s possible to make a home-cooked version of it with recipes like this one. If you do have a chance to try authentic kamameshi though, go for it. The bold flavour combined with the crisp grains of okoge flaking off the sides of the pot will keep you coming back for more.