Neko Manma is a Japanese dish that translates literally to “cat rice”. It is a plain yet delicious bowl of rice topped with bonito flakes and a dash of soy sauce. You can add a little fish, greens, or other seasonings.
This very simple dish is the perfect meal to dedicate to Miyu. I lost to illness one of my cats, Miyu, just over a week ago. Some people don’t feel strongly about pets but they are my babies. I want to dedicate a post to him. The last food he would tolerate was a treat he adored, bonito flakes. He was also the kind of cat you could not leave a plate of food around unattended, and he went for green veggies first. When I saw this cat rice dish I knew this was the right recipe for this post. Neko Manma, in its simplest form, is Japanese comfort food made up of bonito flakes served over warm rice with soy sauce.
Saying Goodbye to Mickey
You may have noticed that things have been quiet here on CulturEatz. It has been a rough few weeks. About a month ago I realized Miyu had not eaten or had water in a couple of days. With 2 cats at home, you don’t always notice right away. A trip and 2 nights at the vet revealed critical levels of calcium in his blood, a strong indicator of cancer, with other issues as well. I have gone through cancer with a pet before, it’s not a life.
I did not give hope right away and I took him home. He just refused to eat on his own. I syringe-fed him for 2 1/2 weeks as much as I could. At that point, he had lost about 50% of his weight and I made that hard decision of taking the pain away and putting him to sleep. It’s a heart-wrenching decision but it was the right one. Miyu was only 4 1/2 years old, with me only 3 1/2 years.
Mickey the destroyer became a sweetheart
Cat lover paragraphs alert! Still with me? OK so let me tell you about Miyu. I was kinda guilted into taking him in the first place. After seeing an ad on Craigslist and when I called the owner said she was on her way to the SPCA. I figured if it was not going to work out at least I would take the time to place him properly. Obviously, he stayed. He was just 1 when I got him. I actually got him after Mickey passed also of cancer and I had done a post for him with a recipe for homemade cat treats.
He was a boy through and through: terribly destructive his first couple of days. And he kept chasing and hunting Sati for play, his new sister, like all the time. She hated him from day one and they never got along. They learned to mostly tolerate each other, sorta. I told him pretty much from the start he was very lucky to have such an adorable face otherwise he would have been outta here in no time. I told him this line over the years, almost till the very end.
He became very affectionate in time and demanded to spend lots of time on my balcony, even in the snow in the winter. He was also obsessed, and I mean crazily obsessed, with running water. Anyone going into the bathroom he followed and expected the tap of the sink to be turned on while one did their business. I encouraged guests to chase him out of the bathroom but many friends just did as Miyu ordered. He had such a beautiful grey fur coat and huge mesmerizing eyes. And he was a polydactyl cat, he had an extra toe on all 4 paws. You can see his front ones in the pic below. These 2 pics were taken a few days before his passing.
Neko Manma for Mickey
So did I mention that at the same time that Miyu was in his last days I also had not 1 but 2 ‘floods’ in my apartment from a pool leak that is 2 floors above me? Oh and a huge stressful project at work where I had to give an interview 2 days after Miyu had passed. Basically, I was running on some form or another of adrenaline for 3 weeks. I kind of shut down after that. This week my body forced me to stop and rest with a minor illness. Funny how the body will force you to rest and process emotions. I see it as a good sign and that things are about to get better. I have been putting off this post as it was too hard.
Now I am ready. I present you Neko Manma, cat rice that Miyu would surely have loved.
Some say that Neko Manma was originally a dish prepared with leftovers for cats. Extra rice was left out in a bowl with a few fish bones and other scraps on top. Totally the worst diet ever for a cat so don’t get any ideas 😉 The dish was also popular with poorer families. If you had a bit of veggie or eggs, they were tossed on top. If no soy sauce was in sight it could be flavored with miso soup, butter, or even mayonnaise.
Making Neko Manma
Traditionally rice should be served “clean”, or on its own. Adding food to it is considered a crude gesture. Neko Manma was a quick dish eaten out of public view. But gentrification has brought this dish to a few restaurants, each preparing it in their own unique and creative way. You can prep your rice on the stovetop or with a Japanese rice cooker.
I added Chinese broccoli to mine because, well, it was in the fridge. And of course, Miyu, the veggie lover, would have approved. I learned all about Chinese broccoli, and how to prepare it, over at Steamy Kitchen. Although there isn’t much resemblance, it actually does come from the same family as regular broccoli. Some don’t like eating it raw because it has a stronger, more pronounced or bitter taste. You may find it under the name “gai-lan” in Asian supermarkets. This broccoli has thick stems and large leafs similar to kale. Try to buy the ones with closed florets.
Have you ever tied Bonito flakes before?
You probably have without even realizing it as it is often used as a decorative topping for many Asian dishes. It also goes by the name of Katsuobushi. Bonito flakes are shavings of dried, fermented, and smoked (usually) skipjack tuna.
If you are going ‘ewww’ right now: don’t knock it until you have tried it. It is one of the main ingredients of dashi (a staple broth) and has quintessential Unami flavor. When putting on a dish it is said to dance. Seriously! The heat waves given off from hot food makes the thin strips of fish move. And it this dish it really felt like I was eating a full piece of fish. A lot more filling and tasty than I had expected.
Neko Manma with Chinese Broccoli
- 3/4 cup basmati rice
- 1 pound Chinese broccoli
- 1 tablespoon cooking oil
- 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
- 1 clove garlic
- 1/8 teaspoon dried chile pepper
- 1 tablespoon miso paste
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1/4 teaspoon roasted sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- bonito flakes
- 2 shiso leaf chopped (optional)
- Cook rice with about 2 cups of water on a simmer for 12 minutes.
- In the meantime cut off the ends of the Chinese broccoli. Line up with the stems facing same direction on a cutting board. Cut the stalks and the leaves in two parts.
- Add about 1 inch of water to a wok or large pan and bring to a simmer on medium. Place the broccoli stems at the bottom and layer the leaves on top of the stems. This will ensure the two parts cook more evenly in the same amount of time. Steam for 3 to 6 minute, or until the stems are easily pierced with a fork. Use tongs to lift the leaves to a plate.
- Fluff rice with a fork and leave to rest 5 minutes covered.
- Pour off any remaining water from wok and wipe dry. Add the oil, ginger, garlic and chile pepper, then turn heat to med-low. Stir in the miso, water, sesame oil and soy sauce. Cook for 15 seconds. Pour sauce over the Chinese broccoli and toss if desired.
- Plate rice in 3 to 4 bowls, and per bowl add some Chinese broccoli on top, a big handful bonito flakes, and shiso leaves if desired.