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COOK•EAT: Asia

Rice, Soy, Chopsticks

Rice—Without rice, Asians cannot survive even for a single day. Many want to eat a bowl of rice even at a steak dinner. Mi amigo from Columbia often jokes of rice by saying, “Oh! Azzore! again!” He completes the joke by squeezing both temples up to form slant- eyes. Thus, rice is the major reason for Asians’ slant-eyes, he insists. He may be right, Asians eat rice a lot.

Rice is not all in one kind, like people in Asia. A variety of rice is grown and consumed in different ways at diverse locations or at distinct occasions. Long grain rice, medium grain rice, short grain rice, sticky rice, sweet rice, brown rice, Jasmine rice, other brand rice, and instant rice are our “rice” but all different. Rice varieties are still under development for particular geographies, climates or uses. Sake rice is specifically developed for particular styles of sake. No GMO for rice, though.

In a Chinese restaurant decades ago, rice used to be called steamed rice. Today rice is often cooked in water, conveniently in a rice cooker, instead. Varieties of rice and post-cooking processes make rice for particular functions and eating. Generally speaking, long grain rice is good for fried rice, medium-short grain rice for simple eating, short grain sweet rice (sticky) for making mochi by pounding, or brown rice for health-conscious people. In addition, rice noodles or vermicelli and rice paper are used for Mu Shu-style wraps in the Chinese or Vietnamese cuisine. Rice is good for a filling effect in the stomach and bland, not putting out any flavor. No worry about changing to slant-eyes by eating rice.

Soy bean and its products are the most common plant protein food in Asia. It grows well without nitrogen fertilizer due to its ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen for its own nourishment. It is often planted on paths between rice paddies. Dried after harvest and made into tofu and its allied products, it is made into powder, fermented like soy sauce, Tempe or Natto. Soybean foods are usually salty, which is an excellent companion to eating bland rice. In our market tofu used to draw great attention to alternate meat-centered meals but we may be losing such an enthusiasm nowadays. We love meat but not so much tofu. Once in a while would be popular, though. Soy milk here in our market has also gained a good appetite but people have also likely lost eagerness to replace regular milk. Soy cheese or other soy products may not keep impacting on our fickle interest in health, I think.

Rice and soybeans must be the major reason why many (not all) Asians are slim and long living. Chopsticks are needed to eat them. Therefore it can be said that chopsticks are a key to healthy eating. Chopsticks function for picking up chunks, even peas, cutting by two separated sticks, or piercing. But not for all kinds of rice. Fried rice or long grain rice are not sticky to be picked up as lumps. In those long grain rice eating regions, people use spoons or some folks grab two pieces of chopsticks together for scooping grainy rice into mouth from a bowl, adhered to mouth.

Chopsticks are made from tree trunks or pruned branches, bamboo, disposable-reusable, lacquered, metal in Korea, decorative, or rubber-banded or laundry clip at the end for beginners. Its length varies, long for cooking chopsticks, or short for kids. A recent trend noted in Japan of changing disposable to reusable ones for conservation. Chopsticks use is nothing trendy any more today. For those who eat food using chopsticks, there is nothing to be embarrassed about eating slowly. Slow eating is good for digestion, eventually health. Rice, soybeans and chopsticks, are good for everybody and health.

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