Rice is one of the oldest grains in the world, and a staple food for more than half of the world's population. It is by far the most important ingredient in the daily diet throughout Asia.
There are thousands of varieties of rice, and agricultural scientists involved in producing new and higher yielding strains of rice will pick differences that are not apparent to even the most enthustiastic rice eater. However, from the Asian perspective, rice has qualities that most Westerners would not even notice, such as colour, fragrance, flavour, texture, density, digestibility, water content and so on. Rice buyers are so trained to recognise different types of rice that they can hold a few grains in the palm of their hands to warm it, sniff it through the hold made by the thumb and forefinger, and know its age, variety, and perhaps even where it was grown.
The seasoned Asian rice eater can tell blindfold, merely by smelling a dish of cooked rice, what kind of rice it is. Whereas for the Western rice eater, the choice that has to be made is comparatively simple. Rice is sold either packaged or in bulk. There is polished white rice that is long, medium or short grain; unpolished or naural rice, medium or long grain, and in many counries it is possible to buy an aromatic table rice, grown in Bangladesh, called Basmati rice. In some parts of India this is known as Dehra Dun rice. Patna rice is also a table rice with long fine grains, but does not have the aroma that distinguishes true Basmati. However, as Basmati is expensive, in dishes where spices and flavourings are added and cooked with rice, any type of long grain rice may be used.
Old rice is sought after and prized more than new rice because it tends to cook fluffy and sepsrate, even if the cook absent-mindedly adds too much water. Generally speaking, the white polished grains of rice, whether long and fine or small and pearly (much shorter than what we know as short grain rice) are considered best.
The desired features of rice are not the same in every Asian country. For instance, in India and Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Miamar, fluffy dry rice is preferred. Long, thin grains are considered best, and rice is cooked with salt. In many households, the most dreadful thing a housewife could do is forget to salt the rice. However, in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam rice is preferred dry and separate, but it is cooked without salt. Further East, medium or short grain varieties come into their own. In Laos, Cambodia, China, Korea and Japan, the requirement is rice that is perfecrtly cooked but not dry and fluffy. Glossy, pearly grains are desired, each one well defined and separate, but with a tendency to cling together so that it can be easily picked up with chopsticks. Again, so salt is used. Laotians are different frm all other rice eaters in that they prefer sticky or glutinous rice to other varieties, whereas in most other countries, it is used only for sweets or leaf wrapped snacks.
Prior to World War ll, three different types of rice used to be bought regularly in a household: rice for the householder and his family, usually white and polished, unpolished rice for the servants, despied by the wealthy, through research has shown it to be by far more wholesome; and rice for the animals, a cheap variety with a smell that was considered unpleasant. Having said this, however, every kind of rice is treated with respect that is almost reverence, for the rice crop is literally a matter of life and death in the crowded lands of Asia. Rice figures largely in religious ceremonies, as a figure of prosperity and fertility, and a number of superstitions have grown up around it. Even the Western world has adopted some of the symbolism of rice, for example, throwing rice at weddings.
TO COOK RICE PERFECTLY
As a general rule medium or short grain rice gives a clinging result and long grain rice, properly cooked is fluffy and separate.
Some cooks favour washing the rice several times, then leaving it to soak for a while. Others insist that washing rice is wasteful as it takes away the vitamins and nutrients that are left after the milling process. My personal view is that rice imported in bulk and packaged wherever picks up a lot of dust and dirt and needs thorough washing.
If rice must be fried before liquid is added, the washed rice must be allowed enough time to thoroughly drain and dry, about 30-60 minutes.
Rice to be steamed must be soaked overnight.
Rice for cooking by the absorption method, without previously being fried, may be washed, or not, drained briefly and added to the pot immediately.
Proportions of Rice to Liquid
Here are general guidelines:
Long grain rice
Short or medium grain rice
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