What is meshi (Japanese short grain rice)?
Sushi Rice (sushi meshi), as Japanese rice is commonly called, is best known by the stickiness of its grains. Cultivated for over 2,000 years, rice is Japan’s most important crop, its influence reflected in Japan’s culture and language. In Japan, rice is called “O-kome” (uncooked rice) or “Go-han” (cooked rice) and is so revered that both terms have attached to them the honorific prefixes of “O” and “Go.” Japanese rice is a ‘short-grain’ rice with a much higher ratio of the starch amylopectin to the starch amylose than its longer grain cousins, which results in the rice being much stickier when cooked. This stickiness has been encouraged over the millennia by cultivators in Asia, which has resulted in a rice that is markedly different than the traditional rice cultivated outside Asia. This property allows the rice to be easily eaten with chopsticks as well as shaped into the myriad styles of sushi we see today.
Rice is used in a great many products throughout Japan, being made into sake, rice flour, rice wine vinegar and mochi, a pounded rice cake traditionally eaten on the new year, now becoming more popular as an everyday item. While rice consumption is in decline in Japan, it is still a very common accompaniment to meals. In fact, people even call each meal “gohan,” such as “asa-gohan” for breakfast. For more information about cooking and using Japanese short-grain rice, see our section on how to prepare sushi rice.