Her tried-and-true method, 50+ years strong.
Growing up in the suburbs, my family and I would go to steakhouses often, our Friday night ritual at the end of the workweek. Think: ABC's Fresh Off the Boat, Louis Huang's Cattleman's Ranch Steakhouse. As soon as we'd come home from dinner, even after that huge meal, my dad would head straight to the kitchen and eat a spoonful or two of cold leftover white rice (the gonggi bap) straight out of the rice cooker. Maybe with some ice-cold kimchi from the fridge, a sheet or two of gim (roasted seaweed snack). Dinner was never dinner unless there was white rice to round everything out. It was as if he couldn't feel fully satiated without it.
I wonder if other Koreans can identify with this longing for rice to complete a meal. It signifies for me a long-lasting lore I've always felt that white rice is food, and food is white rice.
It is significant, isn't it, how the word for "rice" in so many cultures is synonymous with the one for "food"? In Korean, bap means both "rice" and "food," or "meal." In Mandarin, it's fàn. In Japanese, gohan. I'm no linguist or historian, but it makes sense to me that this would be the case for cuisines where white rice is at the center, always the starch on the table, the prized crop in the agricultural makeup of all these cultures' food economies.
I think there's also a lot of mystification out there about how to cook white rice. Maybe because everyone does it differently: It's likely that your way of making it is different from your friend's or from Tejal Rao's, from mine. Indeed, how we cook food differently will always be an indication of the variability of culture, and the notion that there is no one right way.
It is significant, isn't it, how the word for "rice" in so many cultures is synonymous with the one for "food"?
That said, there is a right way in my life, and in my brother's, and in my dad's. I thought it was high time that I share some wisdom from my own mother Jean, whose rice is quite famous for being perfectly fluffy, never mushy, and exactly right. She's been making it for 50 years and, as far as I know, hasn't changed her method since. It comes out immaculate every time, so there's got to be something to it right?
I have to say here: This method uses an electric rice cooker, which is prevalent in every Korean household, like an electric kettle might be in every British household. If you're looking for the stovetop method, proceed here:
Otherwise, here's my mother's method, which, I've learned in recent years, is a little different.
How do you cook your white rice? Let us know in the comments below.