The conversation in the comic actually happened the day I moved in with Audrey. She always cooked her rice in a pot, and as the bringer of light to destitute civilizations (she didn’t have wifi before I moved in) I felt the need to extol the rice cooker’s virtues.

I like to think I explained it to her with less posturing and braggadocio, but I really did end up ruining a pot of brown rice not 30 minutes later. See, I’m more of a Japonica, Jasmine, or Basmati kind of guy, so I didn’t account for the hearty bran husk of the rice and added too little water, which left me with something in between pasta al dente and breakfast cereal.

If you’ve never used a rice cooker and you eat your weight in rice like I do, you need to get one of these babies. They’re cheap, sturdy (my current one is going on eleven years now), and will cook up pot after pot of perfect rice. Every. Time (assuming you measure correctly). Like myself, rice cookers are easily one of the greatest products of Japanese ingenuity. Don’t let the name fool you, most rice cookers double as steamers and are not limited to cooking just rice. There are entire cookbooks devoted to cooking with one of these elegant devices, and ingenious Japanese students living in 16 Sq. Ft. apartments have made an art out of one-appliance food preparation.

Did I mention that they’re automatic, and have been for over fifty years? This is where rice cookers really shine, because we all know that the watched pot never boils* and the “set it and forget it” design is still years ahead of its time. When we have microwaves that shut off once your food is hot, then the future is here.

In fact, the automated rice cooker is so amazing, that I don’t know how people lived before 1956 when you would have to actually monitor the cooker’s progress**. What many people don’t know, is that rice does not tolerate impatience, and your rice suffers when you open the lid mid-cook to check it. It’s actually a capital offense in Japan. There’s actually a saying that goes,

“Even if the baby cries, never open the lid.”

Yeah, I know, that makes no sense. But you get the point.

Which brings us back to me. While I’ve always had a rice cooker, it wasn’t until recently that I knew how they worked. I knew that you put rice and water in, pushed the button, and it shut off when the rice was done. I had thought that maybe weight had something to do with it—shutting the machine off when enough water had evaporated away and taking weight off the plunger on the bottom like a tastier version of the strained-faced golden idol in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Also, for years I had been putting blowtorches to paper cups in order to demonstrate to kids how quickly water draws heat away from its source, but its practical application still escaped me. Only now do I realize how close I was to deducing the mechanism on my own.

Before I actually googled the answer,*** I  had acquiesced to the oft-spread myth that shinto priests trap a vengeful spirit in each rice cooker and bind them to an eternity of tending to their new masters’ starchy work. With no other explanation in sight, it seemed only logical.

How Rice Cookers Are Made

Next time, we’ll explore more advanced rice cookers that utilize fuzzy logic and induction heaters. Because the Japanese are never satisfied being fifty years ahead of the curve.


This post was brought to you by Einsteinium (Es).

Astute readers may may also notice that, given the workings of rice cookers and the amount of rice and water I put in, the rice would have actually come out soggy rather than burnt. But burnt is easier to draw. Also Do note that the temperature cited in the comic depends upon factors such as elevation and mineral content of the water.

*What? It doesn’t. Try it.    …nah just kidding.

**Or for that matter, how people have the time to make sure their pot of rice isn’t blowing up.

***How Stuff Works also has a great article about them.