What’s in your rice?

What’s the first real food you ate as a baby? Rice was probably mine. I have been eating rice the day my teeth grew out of my mouth because I was born in a traditional Chinese family. Of course, that’s a hyperbole and my memory doesn’t take me that far but I wouldn’t be surprised if that assumption was true. In my early childhood, eating rice at lunch and dinner is as natural as drinking water to me because it’s just something that you always would have. Breakfast was the only meal that consists of something different, but milk was a must because my mother wanted me to have strong bones and a sufficient amount of calcium in my body. For this food project, I thought what better candidate do I have to interview than my own mother? After all, she is responsible for why rice is such a huge part of my diet. As silly as I thought it was, I asked her the different foods she ate during her childhood that she cooks for me now. I thought it would just be a short and sweet interview but much to my surprise, she told me a story that sounded like something out of a Chinese movie.

She told me “I was born at time when China was in the middle of our revolution and everybody was poor. Grandpa was the captain fishermen so we had a lot of fresh seafood. The government handed out ration tickets that you can trade in for rice, meat, oil, salt and the foods you absolutely need to have. Of course, the foods were not enough to get you full but good enough to make you not hungry. To feed our family, grandma would always go trade our extra fish for rice so we were never out of rice.  I was well fed compared to a lot of the other families and people weren’t as fortunate and generally, people weren’t starving but they were definitely not well fed.” We then talked about how life was like back then and how I am so lucky to be born at a time where food is cheap and abundant all the time. From our conversation, I never knew something as small and common as rice could be such a huge asset to the people and I understand now why Chinese people like to be frugal. If I grew up at a time when food is scarce, I would develop habits and characteristics as an adult to save as much as I can and be as cheap as I can. It never hit me that I have never even wanted to inquire about my mother’s childhood because well, I thought I knew almost everything about her. From this interview however, I have learned more about the history of China than I have ever in my history books. This conversation about rice has made me cherish my food and what I have more than ever and it let me to see how food can connect close families even more.

Imagine a typical Chinese restaurant. The dragon or the phoenix hanging on the wall, the loud noises of people speaking and the wonderful aroma of different foods fill a television-less room. I have always liked eating at Chinese restaurants because I like to eat family style. For my second interviewee, I went to speak to one of my mom’s friend who works at a small Chinese restaurant. When I was in middle school, which is about 6 years ago, rice was served free and unlimited in almost all Chinese restaurants but nowadays, they charge you a person fee for ordering rice. I asked her why that is and she straight out told me that “ rice is getting more expensive now with all the other foods and restaurants have to be competitive for your business so they mark down the price for their dish and charge you for rice.” Unlike the free bread you get at some American restaurants, rice is necessity with Chinese food because orange chicken without rice would not be tasty. She informed me that her small restaurant only had one huge rice cooker and when the rice is cooked, they put it in a large container so they can cook more rice if they ever run out. Rice doesn’t get cold even though there is no heating device the container sits on because it goes out so quickly. Also, she told me a “fun” fact about my fried rice and I would advise you not read on if you like fried rice because I don’t want to ruin anything for you.  Ever wonder what happens to the rice that people don’t finish in their little red container? It gets transferred to this huge storage pan after the server takes it away and the leftover rice is what fried rice is consisted of. After what she told me, I am definitely never ordering fried rice out again so if you want good fried rice, here are some great ways to do it at the comfort of your own home.

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