ON RICE

charlie lempriere


There is a sign I’ve walked past several times that suggests that if you are clever you can invent an entirely new form of rice. But what about the old rice? I’ve never known it as being old. Bacillus cereus bacteria spores grow on rice that is old. People have been eating rice for a long time. It has been consumed in East Asia for at least 10,000 years. The use of the grain by humans is definitely old. Clever people have not yet allowed me to try the rice of the future, so here’s reflection on the rice of the past.

My mother taught me how to cook rice (specifically white jasmine). The technique is commonly referred to as the “absorption method.” The amount of water added to the pot should be 1.5 times that of the rice. Without the lid on crank the heat until the boiling water makes little holes appear. When they appear place the lid on top and drop the temperature of the jet to low. Wait. Once impatient remove the lid and mix the rice around and then serve.

I’ve tried this technique with brown rice and it certainly does not work. Whatever I ate that night was hard and unappetising, but I did finish it all, because I just love rice. The dahl I cooked to go with it was also dry and mediocre.

The name Maurice is a nice name that also includes the word rice.

I went to Japan once and bought a bag of rice to cook at the place I was staying in. It took three failed attempts to realise that the short-grain Japonica rice (which I bought)  - primarily consumed in Korea, Japan and Northern China - requires a different cooking technique. Outside of Japan it is very difficult to buy Japonica rice that is at its best, harvested within the last three months. With this rice the pre-cook rinse is vital. It is actually recommended that you rinse three times, squish the rice around with your hands and leave it to soak for at least 30 minutes before cooking. Doing this removes excess starch. By the fourth attempt I had done research on the internet and my rice was much improved.

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In Sydney there is a record label called Rice Is Nice. Supposedly the name comes from a song by Welsh band Mclusky. And this is true. I wanted to believe that the name was motivated by a long-time affinity for rice. The co-founder of the label Julia Wilson said that she loves brown and black rice but:

“Once I got severe food poisoning from some Japanese rice which has created a very dubious relationship with the grain.”

Pesky rice! The night before I had two semi-important tests in high school I got very sick from a pack of biryani rice bought at a grocery store down the road that no longer exists. I awoke at 4am to pain and all that grotesque business that you can imagine. Felt entirely weak for the next day or so. Fortunately the sickness didn’t cross the threshold into lasting aversion. I’d still happily eat biryani. Never underestimate those spores though.

Rice of the future is genetically modified to boost the content of zinc and iron. Approximately 30% of the world’s population is anaemic. The so-called “biofortified” rice has been in development for eight years. The scientists are confident that it will be able to combat iron deficiency in regions where people are dependent on rice for subsistence. “Golden rice” is another futuristic invention that operates in a similar way to the biofortified strain, but it is engineered to synthesise Vitamin A instead. Both the GM practises have been challenged by activists who question the sustainability of these experimental grains.

My grandma dropped her phone in a puddle a few years ago and it would not switch on. At my place we put it in a bowl of rice and it came back to life. It became my first smart phone. I call it the “wet rag”.

The band Sonny and The Sunsets have a song called “Reject of the Lowest Planet.” Sonny Smith sings a line about a “lonely little rice cooker sitting in the rain” and I’m familiar with this sad sight. Rice cookers are cheap and often on sale. Once your model has a defect chuck it on the nature strip and get a new one. I should have taken a discarded cooker home by now. All they want and all they can do is be in contact with their best friend, rice.

It is seen by many people in Japan that posting pictures of yourself online is narcissistic. So an image of a rice cooker as profile photo is a common alternative used on social media and dating websites.

I have a friend called G who lives in the neighbourhood. He is a former chef. Once when I was at his house we were cooking rice to eat with takeaway food. A third friend was mildly disputing the method to cook the rice, suggesting that rinsing it was unnecessary. Until this point I wasn’t aware that people rinsed rice. G calmly stated that his family has been cooking rice for over 1000 years and this method was reliable and the way we were going to do it.

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“Learning how to wash and cook rice with my grandmother is one of my earliest memories.”

I trusted G. For a while I rinsed my rice rigorously. Now G has a rice cooker and he doesn’t use the family method anymore.

In primary school our teachers encouraged us to play an online quiz game called Free Rice. There were a variety of subjects and we mostly stuck to the geography section. Each time you answer a question correctly the website donates 10 grains of rice to theUnited Nations World Food Programme. To the right was an animated wooden bowl that progressively filled up with rice. We were obsessed with maps and statistics, so the geography section was a breeze. On reflection, watching that animated bowl fill up is somewhat disturbing. For the kids on the computers it was just a fun game, literally reducing critical global hunger to a trivial level. If we got the answers wrong, would people receive no rice?

Rice is the most versatile grain and I have so many species to try. There are no flavour clashes I can identify. This is a total passion piece and I’m in love. When I was 14 I knowingly ate my first donburi at the original Don Don shop on Swanston Street. Donburi translates to “bowl” and the name in Japanese for the bowl you eat donburi out of is also called donburi. The meal is absolutely anything placed on top of rice and eaten from a big bowl. I think it’s the most beautiful food concept in the world.

“Well cooked rice is bliss and perfection,” says G.


CHARLIE LEMPRIERE

Can play a G-chord on a guitar. Wants to learn more chords. Wants a pair of cords.