Oct 9, 2009

Seductions of rice and Maurice Sendak

I have always had a love hate relationship with rice. I didn’t mind it much growing up. My diet consisted of two rotis with dal and sabzi and a handful of rice to finish off the meal.
The hating began when I started living in a working women’s hostel in Bombay. Every day dinner consisted of rice and a ladle of watery gravy with some scraggly vegetables thrown in. I subsisted on the monotonous meal for a few months before it hit me that I could afford to sneak in a restaurant bought gravy to eat with my rice. It did not in any way diminish the fact that I was forced to eat rice every day and rotis were a weekend luxury at a cousin’s house.
After moving back home and then subsequently getting married, I stayed away from rice as much as I could. Not till I set up my household and got in the grind of every day cooking did it dawn on me how simple the process of making rice was compared to that of making rotis. The first dish I cooked in the microwave (having never used it before coming to the US), was rice.
I was shown by T how easy it was to cook a cup of rice in 15 minutes flat.
Wash the rice 2-3 times in water, pour two cups of water and zap in the microwave for ten minutes, uncovered and another minute or two covered. Boom… the rice was ready.

From Top to clockwise: Wild Rice, Basmati, Parboiled Rice, Ponni Rice and Brown Basmati

Not till I started blogging and exploring the wonderful world of food blogging that I realized how many different varieties of rice were out there. Above is the five types of rice I have in my pantry.
Recently, we acquired Jeffery Alford and Naomi Duguid’s ‘Seductions of Rice’ and were blown away by their years of research and accounts of varieties of rice from all over the world. Here’s an excerpt I found particularly interesting and amusing about the way people in the South and the North of India eat their rice:

One last word about rice in India and that has to do with eating it. Most people in India eat rice with their right hand, though there are different styles used. People in the south of India joke about how people in the north eat so politely with the ends of their fingers that they look as if they are afraid of getting a grain of rice up past their second knuckle. People in the north think that the people in the south, who eat their rice fingers, palm and all, look crude.”
This is what they say about eating the south Indian way:
The most important thing to remember when eating rice with your hand is to loosen up and have fun. Here, you can be a kid again. In Southern India, it’s perfectly fine to mush your food around, to make piles of rice and add little bits of curry and pickle and crispy chips or pappadum. When you have the tasty pile just the way you want it, pick it up in your palm and shake it back and forth as if you were about to roll dice at a craps table. This helps the form the pile into a ball, about the size of a gold ball. And then, with a turn of the wrist, pop it in your mouth. This is the way it is done in South India; the secret is in the wrist, in keeping a loose wrist.”

If that way of eating rice doesn’t sound appealing (can you tell I am from the north?), here’s a children’s song by Maurice Sendak, guaranteed to get your kid to eat some chicken soup with rice. He is one of the most acclaimed children’s author and illustrator in the States. But growing up in India, I had never heard of him till a friend gave my son ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ book for his second birthday. He loved it so much, I was reading the book six times a day for two months straight. I am not kidding! By the end of two weeks I could recite it in my sleep.
Wild Things led us to Sendak’s other works and ‘Chicken Soup with Rice’ has since become another favorite bedtime book. Instead of writing the whole rhyme, here’s a you tube video of the song. Also check out his ‘A Alligators all around’, ‘One Was Johnny’ and ‘Once there was a boy name Pierre’.

I am sending off these seductions of rice and chicken soup to Sra’s The Write Taste event.


  1. Nice write up jay! I enjoyed reading them and sounds similar to my story but a small difference is I started to cook when I decided to go my higher studies at UK. Until then, I was so-so. Living alone had helped me learn a lot as a person!

  2. I wasn't a big rice eater until a few years back either, Jaya, but fell in love with it -- ironically-- after cooking it all the time for Desi who loves it. I usually zap it in the microwave too, or sometimes make it in the rice cooker. And although I don't make it into a ball, I like adding curry, veggies and some papad to it before taking a bite! :)

  3. Nice write up and wonderful info Jaya, btw heard of most of the rice types u mentioned but what is Punni Rice ??
    Even my story is on similar lines, I used to have rice daily when @ home, but when I was in US with a Chennai roomie it became too repetitive but now after marriage its the most common Quick fix meal.

  4. I am a south Indian and will find it hard to go on without rice for more than 3 days. And the method of eating !! LOL .. My grand parents used to eat it exactly as mentioned in the book. A ball popped into the mouth with a small twist in the wrist... Nice Read. And btw, I suppose you mean Ponni Rice.

  5. Know the typical S Indian thing of finishing off a meal with a circular motion of the hand away from you? A South Indian friend who grew up in the North couldn't do this and used to be v fascinated by it. You can see the swirl of curd rice on the plate after this happens!

    As for the ball of rice, it tastes the best with plain cooked toor dal, in my opinion :) But I've not seen too many South Indians give their rice a vigorous squish and squash or let it cover their palms - I remember being told as a kid that it shouldn't go below my knuckles - what gets my goat is people who don't close their mouth while chewing, nothing to do with North or South.

  6. I am not a great rice eater, but I miss it, if it is not part of my meal after a couple of days. And besides in its other forms - as part of the dosa, idli - they are indispensable. Nice and informative post.

  7. Jaya, as I read this I am thinking, Ah we have such opposite tastes as far as rice is concerned. Being a typical Banglori girl I cannot imagine even one day without rice, my meal has to end with yougurt rice and call it high maintenance I can never eat rice made in the MW. :-)

  8. Nice write up Jaya ! and it did remind me of my hostel days will rice and all those mish-mash of vegetables...I dont know what made it tick..the rice or the yogurt...My husband is from south india too though I try to restrict rice to twice a week :)

  9. VC, Vaishali, Radha and Dips -- glad to know we all have similar tastes in rice.
    Dips, is there anything we don't have in common?
    Shobha and RC, I agree what you grow up eating as kids becomes second nature. Like you, I can't do without rotis for more than two days.
    Sra, I too don't care to see people chewing with their mouth open; not to mention the chomping sounds some people make. :)

  10. your blog makes me hungry! now, I must make rice! ;)

  11. Unfortunately, I am the sole dissenter in a family (mine and in-laws) of rice freaks. I'm a bread monster, I could subsist on it alone.

  12. Hi Jaya, enjoyed your post. I grew up eating rice everyday "to finish off a meal" and married into a family where rice was for special occasions. Boy; was that torture or what! Haven't read any of Sendak's books to my kids, but will surely get some now!


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