Okayu is a wonderful way to start the day. Think of it as Japan's own homegrown rice-based version of steaming hot porridge – except that it's always eaten — as otameal porridge would be by true traditional Scottish highlanders — as a savory dish: no effete sugar or milk sullies this rice.
Some mornings I eat it on its own — well, usually there's a bowl of miso-shiru lurking nearby — simply adorned with an umeboshi or perhaps some tsukudani. Other times I liven it up with a fried egg, soft-cooked so the molten golden yolk mixes into the creamy rice, often seasoned with a dash of nam plaa. Or there may be some greens to add from the previous night's dinner.
The best okayu is always what you prepare yourself, cooking the rice down until it reaches that magic stage where the starch suddenly transforms from firm individual grains to creamy-smooth porridge. We like to make ours from genmai — cooked left-over rice works well in a hurry — with the germ and some of the bran intact, giving an extra edge of texture and a warmer yellowy hue.
Today, although the umeboshi was home-grown/pickled, I saved time on the okayu by opening up a pre-cooked pack, something I'd picked up at a store a while back. It was only when i inspected the carton that I realised this came from (or at least was branded by) Eiheiji, the ancient Zen monastery in Fukui Pref. that is the spiritual home of shoji ryori, the elaborate Buddhist vegetarian cuisine – and thus one of the cornerstones of traditional Japanese cuisine. Better known to most Japanese, though, it Eiheiji's hardcore spartan approach to attaining spiritual enlightenment – including the meagre rations of thin okayu that are doled out for breakfast.
As I said, what better way to start the day than a breakfast of spiritual champions?