ONE OF the things that goes inside my luggage first, when I travel to Europe, where I stay quite long, is my 100% black organic rice from a small village in La Union. After a diet of pasta, pizza, gnocchi, crostiniand tapas, cravings for the food that I am accustomed to start to kick in.
Oryza sativa (Asian rice) and Oryza glaberrima (African rice), are the staple foods of almost half of the population of the world. Each culture has developed their own methods of using rice. Rice is eaten daily by over 300 billion people and Asia produces almost 90% of it, but consumes most of it as well.
Rice is the fruit of a grass plant and a cereal grain. it can grow in paddy fields, rivers, wet and dry areas. Generally, the grains take 130 – 136 days to fully mature and 113 – 125 days for smaller grains. After the seeds are harvested and dried out, they are threshed and milled to remove the husk until it becomes a rice.
There are thousands of varieties of rice, which come in different sizes (short, long grain, round), consistency (sticky, glutinous) and colors (white, brown, black, red).
White rice is a refined grain. It is the majority’s preferred rice, because of its color and palatable taste. This rice is milled longer to attain the white color, though the removal of its germ and bran strips off most of its nutrients.
Black, red, and brown rice are whole grain. It is the ideal grain for rice eaters because of its health benefits.It neutralizes the cholesterol level in the blood, gives instant natural energy, reduces the risk of diabetes type 2, stroke, obesity, indigestion and circulatory issues, according to the American Heart Association, USA. It is rich in fiber, carbohydrates, protein, antioxidants and minerals – such as manganese, magnesium, selenium and phosphorus.
Rice is the primary dish you will see on the table of a typical Asian home. It is either cooked alone and paired with another dish or two, or mixed with some other ingredients. The most popular rice dishes are, risotto of Italy, paella of Spain, pilaf of Middle East,nasi goreng of Indonesia, yangchao of China, chahan of Japan, biryani of India and our own biringhi, my mother’s favorite.
While Thailand is famous for its dessert, khao neow ma muang (sticky rice with mango and coconut cream toppings), the region of Pampanga in the Philippines, takes pride of its glorious desserts such as pepalto, kalame nasi, suman, bibingka and putu bumbung, which are also made from sticky rice.
When I was young, my mother used to scoop some of the boiling water from the rice she was cooking, cool it down, then feed it to my baby sister. My mom said, that “am” (referring to the concoction) is good for the immune system and makes the body stronger. True indeed, my sister was never sick. By saying this, I realized that this rice formula is a wonderful form of natural preventive medicine for its health value.
Rice and rituals
Tossing of rice to the newlywed after the wedding ceremony is an ancient and traditional custom. This action implies best wishes of fertility, harmony and prosperity to the couple and to their journey together.
In business establishments’ openings, a mixture of rice with sugar and gold coins are prepared for the ceremony, to be tossed over at the front door, lobby and all corners of the location, to magnetize and invite success, wealth and abundance to the company and to the people involved in the investment.
In pooja or spiritual rites of the Hindus and Jains, they offer bowls of plain (uncooked) white rice and akshata (rice mixed with vermillion powder), while they chant mantras to their gods and goddesses. In their belief, the Devas and Devis, will be pleased with this gesture, thus in return, their prayers will be granted.
In my case, when I feel my space and the people working for me are becoming heavy, sickly and problematic, I cleanse my whole space using salt. I pray over the salt (sea salt/rock salt), say my intention, then sprinkle it in spots where I feel needs healing and cleansing. Afterwards, I assemble about eight bowls of rice with petals of fragrant flowers and say my prayersof peace and light. Thereafter, I place one bowl of the arrangement in each room and leave it there for three days.
The grain of life has so many glorious uses. Let us cultivate more of this goodness, support the rice farmers and producers who sustain not only our food needs but the rituals of life as well.