The Rice and I

Why is it that we Asian’s have this big passionate affair with rice? Is it even food if it’s not rice?
I guess rice is like the potato to the Westerners, the vodka to the Russians, and the pasta to the Italians. This is true in many Asian households. I can’t speak for the modern ones but during my time, and even until my recent trip back to Malaysia, we were having rice at least twice a day!

We have rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and it comes in many forms. Nasi Lemak (coconut steamed rice with spicy sambal, boiled eggs, ikan bilis, and meat!), rice congee, and if it is not rice, we’ll have fried or soup noodles instead. Personally I will choose rice before cereal; at least rice is natural and not processed, unlike breakfast cereal with what seems like more sugar and chocolate than vitamins.

When it comes to cooking rice, the rice cooker is the best invention, next to lifesaving equipment or at least a washing machine. If you happened to see any South East Asian house parties, you will find a rice cooker photo bombing in at least one of the scenes on the kitchen or dining table. The first commercial rice cooker was invented by Yoshitada Minami for Toshiba in 1955. It has since revolutionised the way we cook rice. To me, it seems like a simple piece of electrical machinery, but somehow it knows when the rice is cooked perfectly! Well, it’s not that simple actually, you still have to know the Amount of Rice : Type of Rice : Water ratio. Not to brag, but most Asians are able to measure the rice : water ratio by just using their finger.

There are many types of rice in the world, and each culture has found a way to make this seemingly boring grain into something much more interesting, from sushi rice to nasi goreng (fried rice) to rice vodka!

But rice can never be boring. Somehow, plain rice is all that you need to balance the taste of flavoursome dishes and this is exactly the same advice that I give to many of my catering clients. If you are having a tasty meat or vegetable dish and you have it with another full on fried rice, I don’t think you can fully appreciate the main dish. There is just something about plain rice that makes the perfect umami to heavily flavoured dish

The Asians and the westerners definitely have very different attitudes towards rice, from the way we prepare it to the style of cooking, how it served, and the utensils used to eat it.

The Japanese, Chinese and Korean’s are famous with their skills of using chopsticks in almost everything, including eating rice. I mean Mr. Miyagi caught a fly using only chopsticks! Aiyooo!!!

I grew up eating with using just a hand, like most of Malaysian Malay, Indonesian and Indian people. Sometimes a spoon is the next best tool to use as it act like a mini ladle and it has the ability to scoop up grains of rice. The westerners somehow decided a fork is the way to go. Now this baffled me when I first moved here as there is nothing more disturbing than watching the Orang Putih (slang we use back home to address the White People) eating rice from the plate using chopsticks! I got tired from just watching them trying to bring the bits of rice from the plate to their wide open mouth. I know they try to embrace the culture in a Chinese restaurant, but I just wish that they were told the best way to eat rice with chopstick is using a bowl.

You bring the bowl close to your mouth and using the chopsticks either push the rice in to your mouth or, in a more elegant way, pick up the bowl and bring it close to your neck or chin and use the chopstick to pick up small bits of rice or whatever dish in the bowl and put it in your mouth without the bowl even touching your lips. Maybe that is exactly how I look like when I try to stab the green peas on the plate and they end up jumping all over the place, like they have been possessed!

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