Whether its mac 'n' cheese or samosas, chocolate chip cookies or tamales, everyone has their own notions of comfort food. Growing up in a Korean-American home, rice was the foundation for many of my meals. We always had our rice cooker plugged in on our kitchen countertop, warming a big potful of rice I'd dig into for a fast after school snack. Cracking a raw egg into a bowl filled with hot white rice, butter and soy sauce, I'd mix it all together to let the heat cook the egg. I'm still partial to rice bowls, and here’s four places in Oakland -- plus one in Berkeley -- where you'll find an excellent selection of Asian options. Please let us know your favorites in the comments, and check out my companion post about rice plates.
Best Daily Donburi
There's a gazillion variations of donburi, which literally means bowl in Japanese. While Rockridge's Ramen Shop is known for its eponymous menu item, it also features a delightful donburi that changes on a daily basis. Depending on what's in season or stocked at the nearby Monterey Market, you'll just have to check in to see what magical combination Ramen Shop has heaped into their bowl. A recent special featured pork chashu and yellowfin tuna tonnato with charmoula-stuffed pimento pepper, scallions, ginger, kombu and sansho Tokyo turnips.
Address: 5812 College Avenue [Map]
Oakland, CA 94618
Hours: Mon-Thu 5-10:30pm; Fri 5pm-Midnight; Sat 12pm-Midnight; Sun 12pm-10:30pm
Price range: $$ Entrees ($11-$17)
Best Rice Bowl That's Also a Traditional Lunch Box
Wappa meshi is a traditional Japanese dish that functioned as both a lunch box and cooking vessel for woodcutters from the Fukushima prefecture; river fish and wild vegetables were steamed together with rice in a wooden bowl. Berkeley's Musashi has a multitude of choices: you can get ground or sliced beef, marinated chicken or seafood with slivers of omelette over white rice. It's served with miso soup, tsukemono (pickled vegetables) and a piping hot ceramic bowl of chawanmushi. This custard-like steamed egg dish is flavored with chunks of seafood, slices of mushroom and fish cake, seaweed and dashi. They've also got a fine selection of other donburi such as sautéed chicken, egg, onion and mushroom (oyako don) and unaju (eel). A special mention should also be made for their excellent chirashi, which is a veritable buffet of raw fish over sushi rice.
2126 Dwight Way [Map]
Berkeley, CA 94704
Ph: (510) 843-2017
Hours: Lunch Tue-Fri: 11:30am-2pm; Dinner Tue-Thu 5:30pm-9pm Fri-Sat 5:30pm-9:30pm
Facebook: Musashiya Berkeley
Price range: $$$ Entrees ($18-$24)
Best Rice Bowl with a Sizzling Soundtrack
Bi bim bap, which means "mixed rice" in Korean, is a smorgasbord of ingredients arranged on top of a big bowl of steamed rice. My favorite version is dol sot bi bim bap. The dish is served in a hot stone bowl -- and it's really hot, so don't touch the sides! -- which announces its arrival at your table with an enticing sizzling sound. While I'm also a fan of the bim bim bap at Pyeongchang Tofu House in Temescal, Bowl'd BBQ on Telegraph has a slight edge as they also offer a mixed grain option with barley, quinoa and several varieties of rice. Choose your protein (meat, tofu or fish) to accompany your assortment of fresh or sautéed vegetables. It's crowned with an over easy fried egg, but before you dig in, squeeze some gochuchang, or spicy fermented soybean paste, over the bowl. As you throughly mix it all together with your spoon, the egg yolk will cook quickly from the heat radiating from the bowl. And you'll love the tasty finale: eating the crispy, browned bits of rice that await you when you reach the bottom. Save some room for the complimentary banchan that comes with your meal, too.