So I decided it would be nice to have a rice cooker at work, too. Naturally, first I went and did research. I remembered the rice cookers I'd seen in my favourite restaurants (the Zojirushi units, with their cute little elephant logo, were quite in evidence. I also checked Giant Robot magazine, a fun Asian culture publication. They had a survey where their readers wrote in about their favourite rice cookers, and the Hitachi Chime-O-Matic was a runaway favourite. I tried doing some internet research as well, but was bewildered by the variety of offerings available and the enormous range of prices and features ($10 - $400 for home units). The Hitachi web site was less than useful, and poking around yielded rice.pdf, a handy document illustrating a generic circuit for a rice cooker, and detailing Hitachi's offerings of Triacs for switching the heating elements.
So, to the bookstore I went, and found this excellent book all about rice cookers:
(ISBN 1-55832-203-5 for the curious).
The book contains loads of useful information about the varieties of rice cookers, their capabilities, and how to use them to best effect. One part explained the mysterious "Neuro Fuzzy" cookers, offering the observation that these "are very popular in Asian-American households, and for good reason: they make fantastic rice."
I also dropped by Kitchens, Etc. for their going out of business sale, and looked at their selection of rice cookers. This consisted of one floor model Zojirushi unit, no box, manual, or accessories. I didn't buy it, but was quite impressed with the build quality.
So I had pretty much made up my mind that I'd be getting either a $40 Hitachi Chime-O-Matic or the $200 Zojirushi Neuro Fuzzy unit. The trick then was to find one. I started haunting stores, looking for my quarry, and finding lots of rice cookers, but never quite the ones I was after.
I asked sjdr about Asian supermarkets, and she suggested Korean Korner, up in Maryland. Then, a few days later, I was at dhs's house-cooling party, and ended up spending the night. The next day, I decided to do some shopping while I was still in Maryland. I also asked turtleduck about Asian groceries, and she suggested Han Ah Reum, which was also not too far away. I keyed in the intersection (my GPS had never heard of the store itself), and headed out. The store was quite impressive, and similar to another one I'd found in Baltimore. Alas, while they had a selection of several rice cookers, they didn't have quite the ones I was looking for (they did have the large 18-cup Zojirushi, but I wanted the little one).
However, on the way to Han Ah Reum, I drove right by Korean Korner! So on the way back, I decided to give it a try. It turns out this place was made for rice fanatics. They even had a rice cooker aisle! And the display was simply incredible. Dozens of different manufacturers and models. This is just a fraction of the stuff they had on display. And it was all out where you could play with it. Even the manuals were floating around to thumb through. The sales staff were easy to find and helpful too. I didn't see any Hitachi units, but they had several of the Zojirushi models. I decided then and there that I wanted to reward this outfit for their wonderful support of rice lovers, and elected to buy the fancy Zojirushi Neuro Fuzzy rice cooker. There's my new baby, cheerfully ensconced in my office at work.