Papa’s Japanese Rice
I grew up thinking men were superior cooks to women. I realized this wasn’t the usual state of affairs when I visited my friends and noticed how their moms governed their kitchens. Eating and cooking are my father’s passion. Papa got cranky when the food at home didn’t meet his standards. Flavors had to be well defined, sinigang had to be sour or it had no business being called sinigang. He insisted on vegetables served al dente, and not overcooked mush. He liked the family seated at the table immediately so when a meal was served, all the food was still warm from the pan, or in the case of soup (his pet peeve) hot enough to burn your tongue. Many Sunday lunches were spent at new restaurants. We followed every food fad in the eighties and nineties—going to Mile Long for Mongolian Fried Rice, Makati Avenue for the Seafood Market (decades before Dampa became popular) where we shopped for fresh seafood and produce and gave instructions on how we wanted our food cooked, Kimpura with their tableside Teppanyaki, and Triple V’s eat-all-you-can buffets.
If my father liked the restaurant’s offering, he usually took a bite and proceeded to dissect all its ingredients, and immediately replicated it when we got home. Soon after his first taste of Nielson Tower’s Balut Souffle, he sautéed massive amounts of chopped garlic in olive oil, then added the balut, stripping out the soufflé part of the recipe (the innovation brought on by his inability to make a soufflé because yes, there are a few tiny limits to his dexterity in the kitchen). Tired of the usual paksiw na lechon after Christmas, Papa decided to fry garlic (his seasoning of choice) and added the leftover lechon, cooking both to a beautiful golden crispiness. When we had a surplus of suman, he decided to experiment and heated them on a hot pan, giving the suman an interesting crunchy coating. Even the lowly sardine was not spared. Papa jazzed it up by adding garlic, ginger, onions, hot sauce, and a pickle to enhance the already tasty fish. My mother, a bank executive, strove to make the same fare but relied heavily on recipes for the exact measurements. Her handiwork often turned out to be different from what Papa would make, missing the special ingredients that Papa most probably forgot to list down.
Fresh from a trip to Europe, Papa was enthralled by the pristine beauty of Switzerland, but what really held his attention was the luscious food he consumed in Italy. Papa visited his brother, Tito Ebot, who worked at the Philippine Embassy at that time. Tito Ebot introduced him to Italian cuisine, and my dad fell in love with Spaghetti alle Vongole. Determined to reproduce it, Papa prepared Spaghetti alle Vongole for Sunday lunch for months. The first time we tried the pasta we thought it was delicious. The spaghetti’s texture had the right amount of firmness and the sauce was a lovely briny combination of clams, garlic, and wine. We praised my dad’s cooking but he insisted that the dish was not quite the same as the one he tasted in Rome. He decided that the vehicle of the sauce was the problem and substituted macaroni for the spaghetti. Still delicious but Papa wasn’t satisfied. The dish lacked oomph. Determined, he drove to the seaside market along Roxas Boulevard, and came home with a bounty of seafood—clams, mussels, scallops, and shrimps. The vongole was no longer a simple clam dish but a seafood bonanza. It was still scrumptious but we all privately thought that the first attempt was the best one. This went on until Papa noticed his family’s waning appetite on succeeding Sunday lunches.
I can’t remember the first time Papa made his Japanese rice. All I recall is waking up in a daze on a Sunday morning. When I was a child, this was the one morning when we usually didn’t have to wake up early to go to class, or run errands with my mom. It was also the only morning when my family enjoyed a long leisurely breakfast to start our day. Papa was so excited to for us to taste his latest creation, he couldn’t wait for us to wake up on our own. Still groggy, we examined our early morning breakfast. Papa’s Japanese Rice was a complete meal, steaming hot rice with bits of beef and egg, attractively served in individual bowls. It closely resembled Kamameshi Rice and we all thought the only element missing was chopsticks to make it authentically Japanese.
As I grew older, waking up to the aroma of Papa’s Japanese Rice lost its appeal. I preferred sleeping in after a late night rather than having my fill of Papa’s cooking. Like my sisters, I reluctantly joined my parents for breakfast half awake and slightly resentful that we had to lose a few hours’ sleep to humor our parents. Years later, I’m more willing to forego a little sleep just to taste Papa‘s Japanese Rice.
When I moved from Manila to New York, the term “comfort food” suddenly meant more to me as I felt lost and homesick a lot of times. I craved food served at my home and this was not available in the streets of Manhattan. Even visits to Filipino restaurants didn’t satisfy my craving. I was seeking specific fare found only in my household.
Determined to recreate Papa’s Japanese Rice, I shopped for the ingredients—rice, ground beef, Kikkoman Soy Sauce, and eggs. While waiting for the rice to cook, I chopped garlic and onions, sautéed the ground beef, gradually adding the rice and liberally adding the Kikkoman Soy Sauce that gives it its special flavor. After adding the eggs to the mixture and seasoning it with salt and pepper, I finally came up with a similar creation. Not exactly the same but bringing me a little closer to home.
Papa’s Japanese Rice (Serves 4-5)
- 5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 lb. ground beef
- 4 eggs
- 4-5 cups Rice (day old rice is fine)
- 3 Tablespoons Kikkoman Soy Sauce
- Cook rice. Meanwhile, chop onion and garlic.
- Beat eggs and pour into hot pan. When cooked, slice into small pieces.
- Sauté onion and garlic. Add ground beef. When meat is almost cooked, add rice. Mix well.
- Season with soy sauce, salt, and pepper.
- Mix in cooked eggs.
- Serve steaming hot in individual bowls.