Rice is king: a rice monologue

I’ve been thinking about rice for awhile- and perhaps because it is such a big part of Asian cookery, it’s been a bit daunting to sit down and actually write about. Rice is a pretty big deal around these parts of the world, and though I knew it, it was hard to be convinced. But going to Bali changed my mind for good.

For a long time, I thought rice was bad.  I mean, evil-bad. It was something unneccessary used to fill your stomach, especially when you could have much better selections like meat and vegetables. In Chinese cuisine, rice is often served at the end of the meal, to act as a filler and a last-resort, in case your guests were not completely satisfied. Asking for a bowl of rice at the end of a fancy banquet is as spiteful as spitting in the host’s face.

Particularly having lived in Los Angeles for five years, rice was Atkins’ and my worst enemy. Obviously I think about rice, noodles, and bread differently now- now that I know rices has better and more realistic things to do than to make me gain 20 pounds.  However though I more frequently devour baguettes and pizza without caution, I still have some beef with rice (is there a pun there?  I can’t quite tell)- after all, rice is not only uselessly filling, but in the Western world it’s just so boring.

I’ve been reading more about rice lately, by way of books like these, and combined with my own rice-ventures, am starting to realize that it actually deserves more credit than I’ve given in the past.  Rice has sustained cultures and societies for ages, and it has provided for communities in the same way that coffee, tobacco, and corn crops have around the world. Passing through rice fields first in Yangshuo and finally in Bali, I was able to see the beauty of the plant like I had never before, and quite literally, a bigger picture. I was able to relate rice to a life form- to a cycle,to the earth, and just as realizing your meat comes from animals, this makes eating it a little bit different.

In Bali, many “traditional” Balinese foods involve rice.  Even those that don’t, come served with a side of rice.  It’s not only necessary, but a symbol of self-sustainability, of living off the land, and of a living food culture.  As I ate my tofu and tomatoes off a cheap plastic plate, with a side of “Balinese greens” and little mound of rice, I casually thought about these things and decided that rice wasn’t so bad after all.

We have an a-yi, or our “auntie” who cooks for us once a week.  A little while back, she came to me with a sac of rice tied in a plastic bag, boasting that she had purchased this special type of rice for us- the kind the she likes the best. It was more expensive at the market, but definitely worth it.  Living in a place where we select rice the same way I selected tomatoes on a warm summer day at the Union Square market, I am finally able to view rice at it’s rightful place in the food pyramid: at the top.

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