Chef Takuya Umeda's California Wappa Rice Bowls are all about perfect ratios and technique—and they're easy to make at home.

By Mary-Frances Heck
Updated July 09, 2020
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While the California sushi roll remains forever popular, Takuya Umeda, chef-owner of Umeda in Los Angeles, loves a different format for showcasing the classic combination of rice, seaweed, avocado, and crab: wappa meshi, a dish that originated in 
either the Niigata or Fukushima prefecture. (Japan’s highest-quality rice is grown in Fukushima.) For Umeda’s version, California-
grown rice is first cooked in a rice cooker with dashi, sake, sea salt, and ginger water, then topped with crab and avocado before steaming in a cedar basket that infuses the rice with the wood’s aroma. Garnished with briny roe, nori, cucumber, and sesame seeds, it’s a dish that celebrates Californian ingredients through the Japanese lens of washoku, a traditional way of cooking that emphasizes harmony and the passing of the seasons. Umeda spent two decades studying under iconic sushi chef Nobu Matsuhisa, and while his recipe—at once a deconstructed sushi roll and a modern grain bowl—uses perfect ratios and technique, it’s deeply comforting, delicious, and a cinch to execute at home.

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1. Rinse the Rice

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Swirl the rice by hand in changes of cold water until water is clear; drain the rice.

2. Season the Rice

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Add liquid to the rice in a medium donabe or pot, then bring to a boil on the stove.

3. Cook the Grains Evenly

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Gently bake the rice to finish cooking it, then let it rest to ensure the best texture.

4. Prepare the Toppings

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While the rice rests, cut the toppings into precise–and beautiful–bite-size pieces.

5. Assemble the Wappa Bowls

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Divide rice among wappa baskets; top with crab and avocado, cover, and steam to heat.

6. Garnish and Serve

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Top bowls with roe, cucumbers, nori, and sesame seeds. Serve immediately.

Get the recipe: California Wappa Rice Bowls

What You Need:

Wappa are thin cedar or cypress baskets used for food preparation in Japan, as with this steamed rice dish. They are also traditionally used as bento boxes.

Tamanishiki rice, grown in the Sacramento Valley, is a short-grain, highly polished white rice prized for its depth of flavor and firm-yet-fluffy texture. (Look for it at Asian supermarkets.)

Donabe are Japanese clay pots that cook rice very evenly, resulting in perfectly textured grains. (From $80, toirokitchen.com)