Ohitsu is a wooden tub you can see at Japanese restaurants, especially at sushi places.
This tool has been used mainly to keep steamed rice warm for long in Japanese food history. It's basically the wooden tub and the lid but not merely for keeping warm or stocking cooked rice. Wood absorbs damp or steam from rice and also prevents it from drying with damp it absorbed to keep the chewy texture of rice for long. In addition, it also gives the unique wood smell to rice and make it even better.
This blog introduces types and features of Ohitsu in detail.
East Ohitsu vs West Ohitsu
As you may know, sashimi knives have "takobiki" from the east Japan and "yanagiba" from the west Japan. Now, so does Ohitsu. Actually, our culture is quite different in the west and the east so a lot of aspects are classified into two different types, for instance, the seasoning or the ingredients can be different even if we cook the same food. Therefore, we have quite unique cultural differences between the west and the east so Ohitsu is also one of the traditional crafts that represents those characteristics.
Just to tell you, the east here commonly means around Tokyo area and the west means around Kyoto or Osaka area.
The eastern style Ohitsu is called "Edobitsu" or "Kabuse Buta" and the lid covers the top end of the tub. This type has been used in the east area for long and sushi chefs especially in Edo (Tokyo) often use this Edobitsu.
On the other hand, the western style is called “Nosebitsu” or “Jibitsu”. The difference from the one in east is that the lid is only put on top of the tub and it looks simpler.
These two Ohitsu between the two areas have different figure and history but their functions are pretty much same. When you choose one, you can consider the design and the background stories... get whichever you like!
How to prepare before use
Natural wood contains tree resin. Appropriate amount of resin avoids rot and mold but smell can impair the taste without removing acerbity. Therefore, first thing you need to do is removing acerbity.
There is nothing difficult. Just pour boiling water and add 100 - 200 cc of vinegar. Then you can only wait until it gets cool. This removes tree resin and unnecessary strong smell.
This process should be done only once before first use.
If it gets sticky, pour boiling water or wipe the part with ethanol or high spirits so that you can remove this stickiness. Stain might stay there but it won't affect your health so no problem to keep using.
Getting tree resin means that wood is alive. In other words, it's capable to avoid getting rotten. This is the certain evidence that the material is truly awesome.
How to use and store Ohitsu
Ohitsu is the great container to keep and make cooked rice better but it doesn’t use electricity or special metal. It’s worth noting that freshly steamed rice is supposed to be put into the tub. With this way, Ohitsu steams rice with its own damp and rice gets chewier and lovely flavor from wood.
Please make sure to wash it well with running water to remove rice after use. No detergent should be used. Especially, sugar of the starchy material from rice is the best food for mold. Also, storing Ohitsu in humid places makes it easier for resin to appear on the surface so always completely dry the tub in the airy place afterwards.
Thus, nothing is better than Ohitsu to store steamed rice.
Once you realize how great this traditional craft is and how tasty rice can be, you would want to use it every time you cook it.
Learn the good way to use Ohitsu and enjoy your flavorful rice!