Anyone who has ever gone for Chinese or Indian food will know that rice plays a pretty big role in these cultures. Chinese restaurants have entire sections dedicated to this grain and it’s hard to imagine curry without basmati rice. But this leads to the question, “Why is rice so big in Asian cuisine?” After all, in many European countries bread and potatoes make up the majority of people’s carb intake so why not rice? The answers are pretty fascinating once you look at the historical and cultural contexts that surround them.
A Brief History
First of all, rice is very popular in Asian countries because it’s just been around for longer. Chinese society has existed for tens of thousands of years, much longer than North American and even some European nations. Rice has been around in Asia for just about the same amount of time, around 15000 years. Asian cuisines have a huge variety of rice recipes and dishes because people have had tens of thousands of years to practice. Once people started to migrate away from Asia, rice started to spread across the Middle East and the Southern parts of Europe. North America is still a newbie when it comes to rice recipes because we’ve only had about 300 years to practice. Not a long time compared to 15000 years of cultivation!
Another reason that rice is big in Asian countries is that it’s cheap to produce and it has a very high yield. China and India currently have two of the biggest populations in the world. Their numbers are growing so rapidly that experts say in about 200 years everyone on Earth is going to be some mix of either Chinese or Indian. In order to feed the massive populations that both of these countries have, a cheap means of nutrition has had to develop and grow. Rice is big in Asia because it’s cheap to produce which makes it plentiful and easily accessible. Everyone from a wealthy businessman to a poor farmer can eat rice on a regular basis.
The Culture of Rice
The main reason that rice is popular in Asia is that it’s ingrained in the cultural landscape. As mentioned earlier, rice has been around for a very long time and there’s a lot of it. Because Asian cuisine centers around this grain it has become synonymous with life and health and vitality. In fact, the Chinese saying for “Let’s eat” can be roughly translated into “Eat rice”. There is even a sticky rice dish that comes at the end of meals that symbolizes long life and fertility. Although this grain is present in most cultural traditions, funnily enough the practice of throwing rice at a wedding has never picked up in Asia.
Rice in Your Home
Let’s face it, right now times are tough and the economic climate isn’t exactly thriving. People straight out of college are struggling to find even the most menial starting positions, workers in companies are praying that their jobs don’t get cut, and people who should have retired long ago are now finding themselves back in the work force. People have to find ways to save money and cut costs and this extends to the way people eat on a daily basis. Rice is one of the cheapest grains out there, it’s packed full of nutrients, and the amount of money spent on it goes a long way.
A high quality rice cooker is an investment that is really worth it in the long run. A good rice cooker should be able to do a lot of different tasks such as steaming vegetables, cooking sausages, and poaching eggs. This means that it can take the place of several expensive appliances and kitchen aids. The great thing about a quality machine is the fact that it can literally last for decades. This makes the initial investment of over $100 seem pretty small in the long run. And if you’re really strapped for cash, there’s nothing wrong with using a simple stovetop. You can cook rice in the pot with nothing more than water and medium heat.
Bulk bags of rice are not exactly cheap, with one sack averaging around $40. But considering the fact that a large bag can yield hundreds of cups of rice, that equates to pennies per portion of rice. Buying in bulk is generally a good idea when it comes to buying food but it’s important to purchase the right things. Rice is great in bulk because it can be used at pretty much every meal. It’s a great carb that is low in fat and it goes with just about everything.
Instead of experimenting with elaborate recipes it’s a good idea to start out small and simple. The more you experiment at the beginning, the more rice you’ll end up throwing away in the long run. Use your rice cooker regularly and make really simple bowls of steamed white or brown rice. At this stage rice should really act as an accompaniment to meats and veggies.
Use those leftovers
A great way to start experimenting is to use leftover rice to make more elaborate meals. Have you always wanted to make beef fried rice but were nervous about messing up badly? Use leftover rice in the fridge that’s about to be thrown away. This is a great way to stretch your dollar and experiment with new recipes.
Look up new recipes in cookbooks and the internet
Once you’re more familiar with how to prepare rice, you should start looking for new recipes. Check out cook books or look on various cooking websites. There are normally hundreds, if not thousands, of recipes that can be found on these sites. At this point you’ll be much more familiar with how to properly prepare rice, which means that you’ll be able to carry off more complicated recipes. The more rice recipes you know, the more you’ll be able to do with that bulk sack of rice.