Okama Sutra.

Gentle curves.  Hot Conductors.  Design and culture.  And how history of rice cookers has good karma.


ayam penyet

1-Minute NomNom

If the modern rice cooker was a human being, it would have good karma. Not just because it is part of so many delicious dishes (such as Indonesian ayam penyet in the photo above). But also because its design and evolution helped to strengthen the cultures that used it. Quite an achievement for a humble kitchen appliance, eh?

variety of rice grains on art canvas - three seeds from each kind including white and brown rice, long grain, arborio, black forbidden, and wild

Variety of rice grain including white, brown, long grain, arborio, black forbidden, and wild

In many places around the world, especially Asia, rice is a staple.  It is cultivated, cooked and consumed extensively and forms an important part of the identity of these cultures. For example, it could have shaped them to be more “we” cultures instead of “me” cultures (read all about it in the 1-Minute NomNom “Do you field like working together?“).

okama and rice cookers

Before the advent of the modern rice cooker, these cultures cooked rice in pots over fires. These would have looked very much like the Japanese okama (see photo above). In fact, the design of the modern cooker was inspired by the Japanese okama.

The okama’s “anatomy” was simple: it had a metal pot for the rice, and a wooden lid. It was easy to use: just wash the rice, put it in and set it over a gentle flame.  It also had a heat efficient design: the metal pot’s sides and bottom had gentle curves so that the heat could be conducted over a larger surface to cook the rice more evenly and quickly.

Montage of different parts of rice cookers

Japanese companies took the way the okama worked and invented the electric rice cooker. The “anatomy” was largely similar: container(s) for the rice, lid and fire. The one big difference: replacing the last with electricity (you can read all about the science of rice cookers in 1-Minute NomNom “The temperature rices“).

As a result, it did not alter the way people prepared or ate rice. The book  Consider the Fork“ calls this an ideal marriage of culture and technology. Unlike some cooking inventions such as the microwave, science and technology did not change the way these cultures prepared or ate rice.

fried rice - from rice cooked in a rice cooker

Vietnamese fried rice

In fact the modern rice cooker made it even more convenient. With the okama, one had to watch over it constantly to make sure the rice was not overcooked or burnt. The modern rice cooker was designed with a thermostat to do that automatically.

Strengthening cultures and making lives easier are certainly good karma for the rice cooker. They should be part of a “sutra” for good design. And it all started with the okama.


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photos: in order – depositphotos/szefeiPixelsAway; pixtastock/beach-l; depositphotos; keerati and mayakovaxuanhuongho


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