Asia is the main producer and consumer of rice in the world. 90% of the total consumption of rice will be traced in Asia alone, with large percentage in East and Southeast Asia, as well as in India.1 It is the staple food of the region and because of it, people came up with tons of ways to cook it in a fun, presentable, and creative manner. I have reason to believe it ought to be the star of every Asian cookbook and called the Mother of Asian Cuisine. Just think! Japan has Onigiri, Sushi, Girizushi, Donburi (rice bowl), and Mochi. China has Chow Fun and Chinese rice-cakes. Philippines has Suman, Biko, Sinangag, and even rice in can (not trying to endorse anything!). Basically, the whole region is in love with rice.
SO WHY THIS LOVE AFFAIR WITH RICE?
There are a lot of things I can think of. (And if you are a rice lover, you might have your own thoughts and you may comment it down below!)
1. It’s soft and easy to chew. Asians, especially old people, love the feeling of food melting in their mouths. They find pleasure when all of their taste buds are satisfied, and rice is one of the very few natural crops that would not require them much chewing. After all, one characteristic of a great food is if it does not take much effort to taste the good stuff. Does it sound reasonable?
2. The plain taste brings out the flavor of other foods they eat along with it. Rice has its own unique subtle taste and sticky texture that bonds the strong flavor of different viands and side dishes to it, and this bonding tones down the strong flavor of salt, spices, and other condiments that could be too powerful for the taste buds. It makes food taste ‘just right.’
3. It is cheaper than meat, vegetables, cereals, and all other types of food. Though just like every commodity the price of rice fluctuates depending on supply and demand, rice is still relatively cheaper than other types of food. It is relatively cheaper in the sense that buying one kilo of rice could feed 4 to 5 adults. A few fish, vegetable or meat dish served with mountains of rice could literally satisfy hunger. (Little side note: Even dogs, pigs, and cats eat it, so pet owners can save lots of money instead of buying expensive animal foods)
4. It is very easy to cook. With the fast-paced life nowadays, a few people have time to cook. Higher income groups have the option of just buying fast food, but those with middle to low income have no option but to spend time cooking food at home. And all Asian housewives would agree that cooking rice is the fastest and easiest way among all types of cooking! Just put rice in a pot. Pour water. Let it boil, and voila! Instant rice. It is like magic!
~ TRIVIA 1~
Even people who eat fast food and buy fast food in Asia look for rice.
McDonalds, KFC, Wendy’s and other universal food companies that do not normally offer rice in their budget meals offer rice in some Asian countries!
ASIAN RICE DISHES
Now that I have listed all the reasons why Asians love rice, I think it is time to present some of the many unique ways Asians play around with their favorite food. (I cannot write all because there are tons!) Here are some of the ways Asians do it and if you want to try some of them out, I will provide a link to the instructions (once the people involved approve I post their links here)!
You might have seen a lot of these in Anime and J-Drama, or maybe you have tried one yourself while in a Japanese restaurant. Onigiri, also known as O-musubi, is a Japanese food made from white rice formed in triangular or cylindrical shapes and usually wrapped in Nori (seaweed). Japanese put salmon, pickled fruits, and umeboshi inside it and then season the rice with salty and sour ingredients to prolong its shelf life. It can stay fresh for two days if it is properly made, but in Japan, they normally display it in stores and shops for just one day in order to assure customers of its freshness. Mothers love to prepare this for their children and often include this in their O-bento (home-packed meal) when they go to school.
Mochi is a Japanese rice cake made from pounding Japonica rice (short grain glutinous rice) into a paste and then molding it into any desired shape. There are other ways to make it, but the most popular is by stuffing it with sweet filling – normally red bean paste.
Chow Fun is a Chinese fried rice. It is made by frying cooked rice together with different finely chopped ingredients. It can be vegetables, beef, pork, chicken, seafood, and beans. Anything can be tossed in and seasoned with oyster sauce, soy sauce or any kind of seasoning. Frying rice is not unique to China though. Other Asian countries also practice this, as uneaten rice (and leftovers) can still be fried together and eaten the next day. That is the way Asians conserve food.
Suman is a Philippine rice cake. It is made by cooking glutinous rice in coconut milk and then steamed wrapping it in palm leaves. Filipinos love to sprinkle sugar on it to make it tastier. There are other types of this such as Suman sa Ibus and Suman sa Inantala. The most popular alternative to rice when making Suman is probably Cassava, a type of tuber.
~ TRIVIA 2~
Rice is such a big thing for Filipinos that they
claim being capable of cooking rice properly as a sign of maturity.
If you can’t cook rice, I’m sorry but you aren’t mature enough! You probably can’t even lift a seat!
THE OTHER PERSPECTIVE
WHY ARE WESTERN COUNTRIES NOT THAT FOND OF RICE?
“Rice will make me FAT!”
Westerners do not like the idea of being fat. They are health conscious type of people and they only want to eat foods that are good for their bodies and overall health condition.
(My answer: Well, maybe to some but not for all!)
If that is really the reason why Westerners do not champion rice, then why is it that a lot of them are obese? Why do we often see them craving for cheese, and burger, and hotdog, and bacon? All of those foods scream FAT! As years pass by more and more of them switch to the Western dietary pattern from the Standard dietary pattern. A pattern characterized by high intakes of processed meat, french fries, and high-sugar drinks (colas).
THE REASON IN MY OPINION:
Western countries have a relatively higher standard living compared to most Asian countries. Basic logic would tell us that a person with higher income would have better access to alternatives than a person with lower income. Thus, since the West has better economic condition compared to many Asian countries, their demand for food is distributed.2 They can cut off rice and still have other options. Tastier options.
But we can also see this trend now in Asia. Developed countries like China and India are now seeing a significant drop in the demand of rice and other types of food are now gaining more popularity.
In countries like the Philippines, Bangladesh and Japan on the other hand, the situation is quite unique. The demand for rice goes up as the income of the people go up, and their market for rice is growing bigger and bigger. Now these countries are what I would like to call RICEIVOROUS countries. It just goes to show that no matter what the time is or what the circumstances are, Asians will always be Asians, and they will always love their rice.
1 Papademetriou, M. K. 2000. Rice Production in the Asia Pacific Region: Issues and Perspectives. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Retrieved from http://www.fao.org/docrep/003/x6905e/x6905e04.htm
2 Mohanty, S. Trends in Global Rice Consumption. Retrieved from http://irri.org/rice-today/trends-in-global-rice-consumption