Rice in Asian Cuisine
The heart of any Asian meal is rice. It may be simply boiled in water, or served with a dash of salt and milk.
Frying extends the life of a pot of rice boiled the day before… Garnished bountifully with bits of meat, fish, or vegetable or spiced with a variety of herbs, seasonings, and food colors, fried rice adds a dash of exotic taste or color to a meal.
Rice can be the beginning and the end of any meal, tying together the appetizers, soups, main dishes, salads, and savories to the ultimate course — dessert.
Many Asians love to eat their rice simply cooked, and cooking this staple is an art. Growing it is an act of reverence to nature. With Thailand as its birthplace, rice is a true native of Asia.
Rice symbolizes all food, all good omens, as well as fertility and success. Its presence in any Asian meal is obligatory. Rice is called “the bread of life,” and the Thai word for dining literally means “to eat rice.” It’s the same in China and Korea, where the act of eating a meal is called zhi fan and bab mokta, respectively.
Tradition demands a thick steel pan for cooking rice. However the electric rice cooker is now a common substitute. Rice cookers imported from Japan are available in most department stores and Oriental food stores.
As a culinary experience, the rijstafels, or rice banquets, of Indonesia are a must. Thais love rice with little rolls of pork dipped in a hot sauce. The nonya cooks of Singapore prepare rice with lentils, garlic, and other spices.
The eminent food scholar Waverley Root has referred to rice as the food of enormous populations,” and has observed that in the Philippines, “you can stuff your guests with food, but if there is no rice it is not considered that you have offered them a meal.”
In China, there is a saying which goes, “a meal without rice is like a beautiful girl with only one eye.” To the Oriental, an existence without rice is irreparably flawed.
With dishes based on rice, Asian cooks have built a parliament of flavors, an expression of this bounteous grain’s infinite variety.