Chazuke (a bowl of rice and tea) (茶漬け)

Chazuke is a bowl of boiled rice with tea poured over it. Recently, a bowl of rice with soup stock or hot water is called chazuke. It is usually called o-chazuke. A bowl of rice with hot water is also commonly called yuzuke.

Before tasting this dish, hot tea or hot soup stock, whichever is preferred, is poured over the rice. Sencha (green tea) or hojicha (roasted green tea) is used for chazuke. Sometimes, a side dish of a strong foodstuff is served, or small portions of one or two of the following foods are put on chazuke at one's choice: umeboshi (pickled ume, or Japanese apricot), pickles, crumbled cooked salmon, seaweed, tsukudani (small fish, shellfish, or konbu, boiled in sweetened soy sauce), salted fish guts, grated wasabi (Japanese horseradish), or karashi-mentaiko (salted cod roe).

Chazuke as a dietary culture

Ordinary Chinese people are likely to be greatly surprised to know there is a practice of eating chazuke, because they do not have the custom of eating chazuke in the People's Republic of China, where they drink green tea and eat rice as their staple like Japanese.

Although chazuke is usually prepared by using hot tea or hot soup stock, some people enjoy tasting the cool texture of chazuke by using cold barley tea in midsummer.

Chazuke and generations

Chazuke has been prepared from olden times by pouring hot water or hot tea. As it is easy to cook chazuke, it is popular not only as a light meal, but for taking away the aftertaste of a lavish dinner, and also it has long been loved by mountain climbers. Some people carry a lunch box full of only rice and pour hot tea over it in order to finish eating the cool and crisp rice in a hurry.

Some young people do not like chazuke with 'tasteless tea,' because they have gotten used to eating commercially-prepared instant chazuke since their childhood. Some people took to chazuke, which is similar to rice gruel, amid a boom in eating rice gruel for breakfast that began in Japan in the 1990s.

Today, instead of hot tea or hot water, chazuke with cold tea called hiyashi-chazuke is also eaten.


Chazuke and suihan
Eating rice with liquid poured over it undoubtedly dates back to the Heian period; for instance yuzuke (hot water on cold rice) appears in "Makura no soshi" (the Pillow Book) and "Tale of Genji." There is a passage in Tale of Genji that says Hikaru Genji ate 'suihan' which is cold rice with cold water poured over it.

In those days, with no electric rice cookers with a keep-warm function and no microwave ovens, cooked rice was stored in a wooden cooked-rice container, to which cooked rice was usually transferred before being eaten, and it got cold. As rice gets cold, it loses moisture and its good texture. Pouring hot water is a good way to eat rice, because it adds heat and moisture to cold rice.

Yoshimasa ASHIKAGA, a shogun of the Muromachi bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun), is said to have specifically loved yuzuke which was prepared by pouring a hot soup stock of kelp or shiitake mushrooms over cold rice rinsed with water.

History of chazuke
The start of chazuke history is said to have been in the middle Edo period or later when green tea (middle grade tea) and bancha (coarse tea) became popular with common people. Chazuke of green tea (middle grade tea) is tastier than chazuke of hot water, because green tea contains a certain amount of glutamic sodium (umami, or attractive quality) which has a unique flavor. Chazuke is said to have been invented by employees of merchant businesses of those days who tried to finish meals as quickly as possible during short breaks from their work. It was natural that these employees invented this kind of meal, because they worked almost all day with their meal hours strictly controlled by their bosses. Among the simple meal dishes their employers provided, 'tsukemono' (pickles) was about the only side dish they were allowed to take as their choice from a large bowl. This was probably closely related to the origin of the habit of eating chazuke. In the Genroku era, 'chazukeya' shops started their business of serving chazuke, which was loved by common people as a fast food.

In Kafu NAGAI's famed novel 'Bokuto Kidan' (A Strange Tale from East of the River) which depicts the life and manners of Japanese people in the early Showa period, he described how a prostitute of Tamanoi ate cold rice in a wooden container and an aluminum pot of cooked sweet potatoes with soy sauce; she ate chazuke together with the potatoes warmed on hibachi (a brazier) and heaped takuan (pickled radish).

Therefore, chazuke was considered to be a dish of the lower class, so families of the ruling class or higher did not openly eat it, except as a quick light meal. However, ordinary people loved chazuke because it is convenient, so it became very popular.

Instant chazuke
In 1952, Nagatanien invented and put onto the market, 'Ochazukenori,' which was a revolutionary instant chazuke food product (Nagatanien Co. Ltd. was founded the next year). This was a simple product make of a mixture of dried ingredients, powered green tea, and powdered soup stock, which was put on rice before pouring hot water over it to make chazuke.

Since the 1990s, a variety of ingredients for instant chazuke have been developed and put onto the market experimentally. They are 'Ramen chazuke,' 'Chukaryori chazuke' (Chinese cuisine chazuke), and 'Uroncha chazuke' (oolong tea chazuke). Since chazuke is a simple dish, instant chazuke is one of the regular items at convenience stores and supermarkets.

Rice crackers found in instant chazuke have probably come from bubuzuke (a word used in Kyoto for chazuke) of Kyoto. Arare (rice crackers made from powered rice) and okaki (fried rice cakes) are added to bubuzuke to give a smoky aroma. Yoshio NAGATANI, a founder of Nagatanien and an inventor of instant chazuke, is said to have followed his father's advice and used arare for his instant chazuke products. Since it not only tastes good but keeps the product dry during storage, other manufacturers followed suit.

Manners related to chazuke

Chazuke is also called bubuzuke in Kyoto, and when a person visits another person's house in Kyoto, if the host says to the visitor after a while, 'Would you like to have some bubuzuke?' or serves bubuzuke, it implies the host wants the visitor to leave. If asked to have bubuzuke, the visitor should decline and leave, or if served, the visitor should leave after finishing eating it. The visitor should not ask for another bowl of bubuzuke. Chazuke is also considered to indicate an end (to a long stay or conversation), because chazuke is usually served to finish a dinner.

Generally, it is not considered ill-mannered to make a slurping noise when eating noodles (except for Western type noodles) in Japan. Slurping a bowl of soup (including miso soup) is acceptable. However, it should be noted that slurping a bowl of kayu (rice porridge) or chazuke can be a breach of manners. It is probably because chazuke and kayu have higher ratios of solids than other soup dishes. To eat them, tilt the bowl and draw an appropriate portion with the tips of a pair of chopsticks into the widely opened mouth to chew and swallow down. Some people who are particular about manners may say it is also rude to dip chopsticks deep into a bowl of soup. A polite way of eating chazuke is 'pouring into one's mouth smoothly' since olden days.

However, it is not necessary to eat in the polite way. Nagatanien, a food company, rolled out a series of commercial messages on eating chazuke in the late 1990s. In TV commercials, good-looking male employees of an advertisement agency or some consumers selected from applicants among ordinary people played roles eating chazuke with the emphasized sounds like 'hu-hu, jul-jul, haf-haf, mosha-mosha,' and the commercials were also aired on the radio. These series of commercials were criticized as the sounds were too rude, while some say they have been successful in promoting consumption of chazuke. There are pros and cons regarding them.

Impact of chazuke on other dishes
A dish called hohan (芳飯 or 法飯) was created in the late Muromachi period. This is cooked by putting seven kinds of ingredients (mostly vegetables) on white rice or mixed rice and pouring a blend of soup stock and burnt rice in hot water over it. It was served with formal shojin ryori (vegetarian dish) or honzen ryori (formally arranged dinner), and guests were free to ask for another bowl. It is served as a kind of shojin ryori at Zenko-ji Temple in Nagano Prefecture today, and in Okinawa Prefecture a dish called sefan (菜飯) similar to hohan is enjoyed.

An eel dish called 'hitsumabushi' was invented in Nagoya City in the Meiji period. When the dish has nearly been eaten, it is turned into chazuke.

Anecdotes related to chazuke

Legend has it that Nobunaga ODA, a samurai lord in the Sengoku period, regularly ate yuzuke before he departed for battle.

Yaozen, a high-class restaurant in the Edo period, served chazuke which was expensive at a price of one ryo (両) and two bu (分) per bowl. The reason for such a high price is said to have been that they had a person deliver the good quality water for chazuke.

Ogai MORI, a great novelist in the Meiji period, loved manju chazuke (chazuke with half a sweet bun with red bean paste on the cooked rice). This is because he not only loved sweets but also because he became obsessed with cleanliness after observing germs under a microscope while studying in Germany. He is said to have put four quarters of manju on a bowl of cooked rice and poured boiling green tea over them before eating them.

Tonkatsu chazuke' (pork cutlets and cabbage on rice with hot green tea) at 'Suzuya' in Shinjuku is well known as an unusual example of chazuke.

[Original Japanese]