I eat rice every week. It used to be every day. My digestive system seems to just work better with rice. I like all kinds of rice, from wild rice to long grain white and brown to sushi short grain from Japan, to red rice from Northern Thailand to yellow Dominican to soy-sauce and cilantro infused fried rice of Singapore… But most days, Thai jasmine is my favorite.
Every Asian family, and probably Hispanic too, has a large bag of rice somewhere in their kitchen or pantry. It doesn’t make sense to buy these small bags for ridiculous prices when you can get a 25 pound bag that will last your family about 3 to 4 weeks. The main issue is where to store it. In my apartment, it’s rather tight for space, so I bought a decorative brass bell that also conveniently hides a 25 pound bag of rice.
My mom used to make a delicious Korean Bulgogi that I would go and grill on the charcoal fire. I loved being involved in cooking. She would teach me even though I wasn’t doing it, just watching. But, then it was my turn to go and grill it. Luckily, because we all liked it well done, it turned out pretty good: crispy, blackened and burnt – just how we liked it! And mounds and mounds of white rice!
My mom used to make Carolina brand long grain white rice in an old rice cooker. It was white, a Sanyo, medium sized pressure cooker. And for a long time, this was my gold standard. When we ate in Chinatown, I was astounded at the difference in the taste and smell of their rice. My Dad used to say that’s because they don’t wash the rice. He would yell at my Mom not to wash the rice. I never believed him.
In college, I discovered a whole new world of rice. I ate in Dominican restaurants where the rice was salty and yellow with little pigeon peas mixed in. Delicious! Then, I discovered the longer almost bread-like basmati rice.
For awhile I lived in Asia. Some of my local friends called me a “rice bucket,” because I ate 4 to 5 bowls of rice with every meal. Later, I learned that that’s what they called a very lazy person.
While traveling in Vietnam in the early 1990’s, I rode a motorcycle across the rice paddies on the little mud lanes separating the marshy, swampy ponds. Rice was everywhere. It was even drying in heaps along the sides of paved roads and one could drive over it if not too careful.
Sometimes my Mom would cook rice not in the automatic rice cooker, but in a stove-top pot for “extra iron” as she said. This was very strange to me as she wasn’t cooking in an iron pot but a stainless steel one. Perhaps the basic thinking was sound because a cast iron pot is what they would use in ancient Korea.
She would burn the rice deliberately to get a crispy browned layer of rice at the bottom. By pouring some hot water over it, we had rice tea! The scraps of rice, hard and burnt, but so deliciously soothing. It was more like rice soup than tea. Sometimes she would mix in a mixture of roast barley or corn.
Korean comfort food. The equivalent of the Jewish Mom’s chicken soup.
My Dad taught me the Thai way to make rice.
Fill a pot halfway with rice.
Rinse and discard water and any husks, debris r
Refill until water line is one finger knuckle (about an inch) above the rice.
Cover and bring to a boil.
As soon as it boils, reduce heat to lowest simmer and let cook for 15 to 20 minutes.
I taught an Italian retiree the above method. He was ecstatic saying how much everyone loved it.
“There’s something strange about visual literacy. It seems you either have it or you don’t.” Jack was musing again, speaking with that far away look in his eyes, a half-full martini in his hand.
“Is it cultural? I mean is it part of a social DNA that gets passed on from generation to generation building up in the collective unconsciousness? Take the Chinese. They’re one of the oldest civilizations on the planet, with great structure, order and wisdom and yet they have no visual design sense! Go into any Chinatown anywhere and what will you find?”
I looked at him while trying to think of something witty to say.
“I’ll tell you what you’ll find: cacophony, noise, filth! And they way they talk it sounds like they’re cursing at each other.
“Jack I think you’re lumping in a huge population with a smaller…”
“Yes I know what you’re going to say, they’re speaking Cantonese and yes, the northerners have a much more polite language, but seriously, why send over the most illiterate? The chaos even spills over into even the way the language looks! I mean, I don’t speak or read Chinese but I can tell you the vast preponderance of clashing styles makes for just a cloud of clutter! It’s ridiculous. Go to Hong Kong, even better, go to Mongkok which is in the Guiness Book of World Records for being the most densely populated place on earth. It’s like living in Blade Runner. It’s packed with people, rats and signs! The signs are the worst part of it, I felt like I was suffocating the whole time. I had to ask my boyfriend at the time, to just hold my hand to guide me out of there – I couldn’t even open my eyes!
Meanwhile, you go to Japan or Korea and you see an almost opposite attitude. They get it! There’s a reverence for beauty. They understand design! They know what negative space is and heartily embrace it!
I can’t read it either but it’s effect is one of order, hierarchy, respect. It makes the Chinese look like backwards barbarians!”
Some would call Jack a racist, but having known him for a while, I would say he was just an observant guy, someone who could see the stuff behind the curtain. A self-taught typography buff, he now felt he could hold court on the societal benefits of good letter spacing, kerning and emotions of fonts.
I was also used to his near perfect record of having a new cultural epiphany at 5:30 pm, halfway through his second happy hour drink. And now that he was on the museum board, he felt beyond reproach, after-all he was representing these cultures to the world.
There was the sound of glasses clinking and we looked up to see the servant bringing in another round of martinis.
“Thank you Chung, can you please check with the cook on dinner?”
“Yes of course sir.”
The servant was an elderly Chinese gentleman.
“You see, I even had to teach Chung here how to have some eye for design. When he got here, he would put the most hideous outfits together, I just had to send him back! I mean how could I have him serving guests looking like some coolie?”
“Did you know I have some Chinese blood?” Jack said.
“What?” I said surprised.
“Yes, I’m not joking. It was a bit of shock to me at first too. But then I started to think about how it all started to make sense. I too struggled with my fashion sense. I too had this feeling of otherness. My mother, God rest her soul, even told me once how I used to get teased for having “chinky eyes!” I guess I outgrew that.” He laughed.
“But I am proof it is over-comeable. Is that even a word? I’m living proof that one can develop good taste, a judgement for balance and design and “chinkiness.” He giggled.
“So I guess I’m contradicting my earlier statement of either having it or not. But anyway, have another drink. Let’s toast my new appointment shall we?”
I raised my new glass even though my old one still had 3/4 of the drink left.
“To the newest and most wonderful Board member, Jack Carpenter.”
We clinked glasses and I took a sip. Jack practically guzzled half of his.
“Those friggin’ gooks have no idea what they’re in for!” Jack slurred.