“Rice is living.” Japanese’s obsession to cook the perfect pot of rice can be seen everywhere where they live. In Singapore, you can get rice milled on the spot in Japanese supermarkets. The trouble to bring in the machine and the unmilled rice is just how much Japanese would pay for a good bowl of rice.
Milling is an important process and small batch milling is preferred vs the commercial milling that is used for mass production packaged rice because friction causes heat and heat destroys the flavour of the rice. Trust me, I did not make these up. I got the information from one of the oldest rice store in Japan. Hachidaime Gihey 八代目儀兵衛 from Kyoto sold 1.6B yen of rice in 2016, and they have been around since 1787! It is now operated by the 8th generation owner Takashi Hashimoto, who has modernised the whole delivery of rice and the preparation of rice based on much more scientific and repeatable methods.
Since the last time I went to Ando and tasted one of the best rice ever, I have been searching for the next big find. I have walked past this Gihey shop in Narita Airport Terminal 1 several times and thought of it as just one of those Washoku place. When was the last time you had anything tasty in an airport?
But Kyoto Gihey is different. Firstly, they are really serious about their rice. How so? They cooked all their rice in these huge earthen pots, not in electric cookers. Everything was cooked in small batches. And they only served their own brand of rice. And their selection of rice is so immaculate in a process similar to blending of whiskey. How does Johnny Walker maintain the taste of their blends like Black or Blue label when each batch of whiskey can be differing in taste? By blending to get the flavour profile that matches the labels.
Likewise, Kyoto Gihey has set a strict measure that grades each batch of rice from different farmers. The rice is graded 5 stars based on the taste, sweetness, luminance, whiteness and stickiness. Only the finest rice will get the 5 stars rating, and only 5 stars rice are used in the blending process. Of course, you can also buy the single source rice. But in order to keep the standard of the rice over time, Kyoto Gihey blends their rice based on the year’s production.
And there’s a sixth sense that the owners would reserved for the best of the best that serve in their restaurants – the “sense of throat” 喉越しと感覚. It’s like the first time you swallowed a piece of the finest otoro, that melt in your mouth feeling and the smoothness as it glides down your throat. That’s how their rice tasted. Take a mouthful of ginshari, chew, swallow. Feel the sweetness and fulfilling taste of the rice, and also that “smoothness” as you swallow. All served in the finest crystal bowls.
But rice, no matter how nice they are, needs some accompaniments. So Kyoto Gihey serves their rice with different Gozen sets. ファーストクラス 銀シャリ御膳 First Class Ginshari Gozen came with a couple of おかず okazu – a piece of grilled mackerel and a piece of grilled salmon, ikura, braised pork belly, boiled whitebait with spinach, and the main dish of tempura.
I added an ala carte order of 牛焼肉 Yakiniku – this was perfect for the rice and sweet, savoury yakiniku sauce would be perfect for the perfect rice. But it is too impolite to spoil such high quality rice by pouring the sauce all over it. It is expected that one savours the splendour of the rice on its own. Who cares? I will play the ignorant foreigner card and just indulge.
The best part of the rice was the burnt rice on the bottom of the pot. And only when you finished your first bowl of rice, you get the second serving with a piece of the burnt rice. So quickly finish your first bowl and get this delicious rice pop. You can eat it by sprinkling some salt or flavouring on it. But I dipped it in the sauce that came with the pork belly. It was the best combination I think.
And then you can finish a really filling meal (because of all those starch that you just ate) with a warm bowl of miso soup and soft, tasty chawanmushi.
I am always amazed by how well the Japanese made their food models. Here’s the food model that was displayed outside the shop, can you tell the difference between the plastic model and the real thing if there was not price tag?
I definitely recommend a stop for the rice in Kyoto Gihey. The journey was worth the wait (yes, if you are rushing to catch a plane, the waiting time can vary between 30 min – 1 hour, and the meal will need an hour).
「FIRST CLASS RICE」八代目儀兵衛 Kyoto gihey
成田国際空港 第一旅客ターミナルビル 中央ビル新館4階 NC416