Coconut cool-down

You might remem­ber my fairly recent dis­cov­ery of coconut juice a few months ago on a trip to Thai­land. Indone­sian cli­mate treated us with the same warm, humid breeze that we expe­ri­enced in Thai­land, so nat­u­rally I could not forgo a sweet, thirst-quenching taste of coconut juice while sight­see­ing around Ubud. This has got to be nature’s Powerade.

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.

Monkey business

This mon­key looked like he had been around for a decade longer than thee sprite young mon­keys jump­ing on the backs of tourists at the Mon­key For­est Sanc­tu­ary in Ubud, in cen­tral Bali. Miss­ing one eye and man­ning the desk of one of the tem­ples within the sanc­tu­ary, he sat along­side the secu­rity guard and watched as vis­i­tors walked past. Maybe it was just me, but I am pretty sure he shot me a grumpy, cur­mud­geonly glare as I walked on with my camera.

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