Okowa refers to rice served as a meal cooked by steaming glutinous rice.
This term is originally one of the court-lady language, and it is also referred to as kowameshi.
Sekihan (glutinous rice steamed with red beans) is also included in okowa, and okowa represents sekihan in a narrow sense. Kowameshi means hard rice, and different from cooked non-glutinous rice, it is unique in firm yet chewy texture and tastes sweeter.
Glutinous rice was valuable in the past, and okowa made by steaming glutinous rice was such a special food for celebration banquets only eaten in noticeably cheerful and formal situations such as auspicious events, festivals, and the New Year's holidays. Also, okowa without meat was preferred by Buddhist priests as shojin-ryori (vegetarian cuisine originally derived from the dietary restrictions of Buddhist priests).
Adding just plain flavor is preferred in order to keep the faint sweetness of glutinous rice. Some flavorings such as soy sauce, mirin (sweet cooking sake), and sake liquor are used just to add some flavors. Plain ingredients such as chestnuts, mushrooms, edible wild plants, bamboo sprouts, chicken, and white-meat fish are popular. Also, steamed glutinous rice without any flavors is called shiramushi.
Genuine okowa is made by steaming rice with a seiro (basket used for steaming food) or a steamer, but okowa can be also made with a rice cooker, a mochi (rice cake) maker, or a microwave at home.
The following is one example of the recipe for home cooking with a rice cooker.
Before steaming the glutinous rice, wash the rice and put it in a strainer to let the water drain off.
Prepare the ingredients which will be added to the rice. Simultaneously with the above step, make the soup for steaming the rice.
Put the glutinous rice and the soup into the inner pot and pour the flavorings evenly in a circular motion, and then put the ingredients on it.
After the rice is cooked, fluff it up with a rice scoop to get rid of the moisture.
Various types of okowa
Sekihan (okowa with azuki red beans or black-eyed peas, and it is well-known as a special food for celebration banquets)
Kuri okowa (sweet flavored chestnuts are added)
Sansai okowa (okowa with edible wild plants)
Tai okowa (okowa with sea bream and it is also called tai-meshi, which literally means "sea bream rice")
Kinoko okowa (okowa with mushrooms)
Unagi okowa (okowa with eels)
Tori okowa (okowa with chicken)
Gomoku okowa (okowa with vegetables, fish, and/or chicken)
Ume okowa (okowa with pickled plums)
And so on.
In addition to the above, people tend to prefer okowa using seasonal foods such as salmon, young sardines, matsutake mushrooms, and bamboo sprouts.
Also, some convenience stores sell onigiri (rice balls) made of okowa in as-is.