30 August 2012

Upgrading our rice cooker :: the Zojirushi

Amos and I did long distance for a year. Did I ever tell you that? It was in college; we began dating at the end of my sophomore year, his junior. He graduated in 2006 and moved to Seattle to look for a job. I ended my junior year and went to Spain to study abroad. We did international long distance for 4 months before doing across-the-state long distance for another 8. It was not fun, but it was more palatable than the alternative of breaking up, so we hung in there. I can clearly remember the feeling I would get before I had to drive back to Spokane; It was like heartbreak and nausea all at once. Yeah. I'm really glad that chapter of our lives is over.

This is not to say that don't have any happy memories from that year. One time I caught a ride across the Cascades and surprised Amos for a weekend visit. Now when I look back, I'm shocked at how little I planned. I didn't check with him at all and just had someone drop me off at his apartment complex. No warning. What if he wasn't there? What if he already had plans? He must not have because everything worked out, and we had a really fun weekend. When I showed up at his house, his first real apartment, I had this in my arms. Apparently, I thought that a visit from the girlfriend wasn't surprise enough. We needed a rice cooker thrown in there too.

It was the best that $15 at Target could buy. I knew Amos liked white rice, but didn't really get his obsession with it. My family preferred its carbs from potatos & bread, and I honestly can't remember rice ever being at our dinner table unless we were having Chinese takeout. (Note: Chinese takeout in Grand Junction, Colorado in the 1990s was as terrible as you'd expect). However, this kid liked rice. I liked this kid. Hello, Mr. Rice Cooker.

That was 6 years ago, and the little rice cooker has served us well. It's been moved from Mountlake Terrance to an apartment in Seattle to another apartment in Seattle and then onto a barge destined for Japan. It's made countless cups of rice and has convinced me that rice-done-right is a whole different ballgame than I previously knew, and it's something I can get behind. (Maybe not as behind as Amos, but you know, I'll eat it nightly, which may give you a clue on how much that man loves rice. He wouldn't be opposed to rice at every. single. meal.)

In the past few months, however, the little-red-rice-cooker-that-could seemed to be failing. The nonstick coating was scratched, and I worried that might be slightly cancer causing. We began thinking about a replacement. We live in the Land of the Rising Sun after all. It seems like a logical place to buy a rice cooker. Plus, I wanted one that would sing to me, and if any appliance is going to do that, it's going to be Made in Japan.

Several of our friends had rice cookers they bought here, and they warned us of the price. ¥10,000 (or about $125) is standard for a entry-level cooker, and they go up from there. For the real rice fanatics, one could easily spend upwards of $600 on the Cadillac of rice cookers. (We nixed that option.) We made a budget of $200 or less, which seemed extremely extravagant and would become our second most expensive appliance (I have the Dyson Animal Vac, and it is awesome.) I wanted this to be the last rice cooker we buy, and when you amortize out the cost over cups of rice cooked, it ends up being worth the money (look at me, using my CPA vocab to justify expensive purchases. Nice.)

On to ビックカメラ (Bicu Camera) and into the large rice cooker section. They had so many options, and we were having trouble determining the differences between versions. There was quite a bit of looking kanji up on the ol' iPhone (for the record: brown rice is 玄米). We were overwhelmed by bells and whistles we couldn't comprehend. We were confounded by the brands. We heard Zokirushi is good, but is it better than Tiger? Toshiba? Panasonic? Wait, Panasonic makes rice cookers? What the what? After the longest shopping trip Amos has ever been on, we narrowed it down to two, and decided to head home and do some research. We may have even stopped by the basement liquor store at ビック to pick up a bottle of wine. It was that kind of shopping trip. Stressful, and we didn't even buy anything (except a nice Spanish white wine).

I came home and did what I always do: type something into the Google machine. Well, what do you know, there are hosts of sites and blogs to tell you "which rice cooker is the best" (which is, verbatim, what I typed it. Google genius, yes I am.) I found this site, and it was so helpful in introducing me to the basics and explaining, once and for all, what the differences were between rice cookers. Before we had been limited to a Japanese salesperson telling us that the more expensive cookers made more delicious rice. It turns out that is an entirely accurate statement, and now I know why. It has to do with induction heating, electromagnetism, and something called 'fuzzy-logic.' Rice cooked through induction (where the heat comes from all sides) is better than the conventional cooker that only heats the bottom of the bowl. Cookers that self-adjust to the particular batch of rice (a.k.a "fuzzy-logic") result in more consistently cooked rice, as each bag can differ depending on the freshness of the grain. Pressure cooking the rice can result in very soft and slightly sweet rice, but man, you pay for that luxury. Lastly, and obviously enough, the higher the quality of the bowl in the rice cooker (aluminum, copper coated, enamel), the better the rice cooks, similar to pots and pans.

Amy Chang, the author, (who knows a thing or two about rice cookin') even gave a handy-dandy list of questions you should ask when faced with the crazy rice cooking market. How much rice do you need? What do you need the rice cooker to do? How much counter space do you have? What features do you really need?

Ahh... okay, we're getting somewhere here.

I could now tell that our little red rice cooker was the most basic of the basic. It just had a cook and keep warm button, and it had to be emptied out within about 30 minutes of finishing or the rice became icky. (Technical term.) There was always a crust on the bottom that required scraping out, which was how the nonstick surface became scratched in the first place. Still, for $15 and six years, I think it served us very well. But now? We're adults. Let's do this thing.

I looked at Ms. Chang's list of recommended rice cookers and I did something very-Shean of me. I fell in love with her top option: the Zojirushi NP-HBC 10 5 1/2 Cup Rice Cooker with Induction Heating System, Stainless Steel. I mean, come on, her review is killer. She calls it "the perfect rice cooker" with "the bells and whistles that actually matter but isn't outrageously expensive." Sold. I mean, it was $150 over our price limit, but she says it's not outrageously expensive as rice cookers go, and she's an expert, people. To make myself feel better, I looked at her second choice (no brown rice option, so it was ruled out) and then the most expensive cookers so I could feel justified in my choice. I mean, it wasn't $600 or $800 so it's pretty much a screaming deal.

I satisfied my beat-it-till-it's-dead tendency by popping over to Amazon.com and reading the reviews. Usually I take these with a grain of salt, since people seem to get upset over the smallest and most inane things. However, this baby had 147 reviews and ended up between 4 and 5 stars. Okay, okay. What's more, on Amazon.com, it was cheaper than it was listed at ビックカメラ. By about $100. Not within our budget, but WAY closer. Close enough I could justify. I jumped over to Amazon.jp, continuing my over-researching, and confirmed: buying this US was the way to go. It was in English (um, English-ish) and, even with the international shipping and duty taxes, it was cheaper to buy it abroad, even though it was made here.

Let me tell you: the strong Yen is killer. Yay for Japan. Boo for us.

Okay, we're $50 over budget, but this thing is pulling me in. Then I saw it also has the GABA Brown Rice option. Apparently, Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) brown rice is standard brown rice that is soaked for 2 to 20 hours at 40C (104F) to germinate each rice grain, creating higher levels of the GABA amino acid. It's supposed to improve kidney functions, lower blood pressure, and be all around delicious. I did not know this existed before but I now must have it in my life. I love brown rice, and even though Amos doesn't, I wanted a rice cooker that could handle it so that when we get back to the States, we can have it 50% of the time. I mean, marriage is about sharing and compromise. Most couples face this with money or children. We face it with rice. (Also, I want my kidneys to be happy! I'll ignore the fact that I have really low blood pressure already for the sake of my argument!)

Besides, this fancy-schmansy cooker had a timer function, so I could have rice begin cooking while I was away, which is great for when I forget to put in the rice early enough, which happens about 3 times a week.

Amos and I talked. We bit the bullet. We had a couple other things we were looking to get in the States and ship over (see strong Yen, above). Amazon.com got a big order from us, and within a week, we'll be the proud owners of a fancy rice cooker.

Not a minute too soon, either. Our little red buddy is really beginning to act up. The last two nights, we've flipped the cook button only to have it not stick and sit, pathetic uncooked rice in a water bath, until we notice it and restart it. The rice is beginning to get really hit or miss. It's getting quite tough to get all the way clean. It's like it knows we're cheating on it, the end is near, and its just given up.* On the other hand, it's quite satisfying to be shopping for something you really need, and be reassured it wasn't an impulsive purchase. (* Not my joke. Amos' from last night.)

I think I'll be sad when I put our little Red Rival Rice Cooker in the (non-burnable, green-bagged) garbage. It's been a good one. It sold me on the entire "rice" thing. I couldn't look at it without remembering Amos' first post-college apartment, long-distance, and me surprising him with a visit. It's been with us for a long time. Sigh. Then I think of the Zojirushi, and, meh, I think I'll be able to move on just fine. I just hope it sings to me.

1 comment:

  1. awww :-)

    I def. have a few things like your little red rice cooker that could; things I can't seem to upgrade or get rid of because they're sentimental and haven't quite crapped out yet. a bunch of them even made it through the great spring 2012 "we're moving! get rid of all the things!" purge. I think I might be running out of excuses to keep them... lol


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