Sunday, March 11, 2007
Culture and Cooking Rice
I have never fully appreciated how truly wonderful a bowl of perfectly cooked rice is until I attempted to cook some myself - without a rice cooker. Arrgggh!
Ahh! The humble rice cooker. Who would've thought that an apparatus that can turn raw grains into fluffy rice would be one of the things I would miss most from Malaysia?
I've been struggling mightily ever since I arrived in Dar last May, to cook rice properly in a pot. The results have been vastly varied. I've produced:
1) Seriously burned rice.
This happened when I gave myself too much credit with being able to handle things in the kitchen. Instead of anxiously watching over the rice and boiling water as all novice cooks should, I would prance out of the kitchen, get caught up in yet another piece of scandalous celebrity gossip on E! and completely forget about the boiling rice. Eventually all the water would completely disappear and there'd be a hard black piece of charcoal-like object stuck to the bottom of the pot where the rice used to be. I'd only realize what I'd done when I smelled something burning and rushed through the smoky fog in the kitchen to turn the stove off. The rest of the afternoon would be spent trying, in vain, to scrub off burnt bits from the bottom of the now charcoal-black pot.
2) Undercooked rice.
This happened when I used to get overly anxious about the rice to the point of being paranoid. The rice would be barely cooked before I rushed to take it off the fire. Not a good idea because the rice grains wouldn't be cooked in the centre and have retained that awful chalky taste of uncooked rice. Unfortunately, it took me a while to tell that the rice was uncooked just by looking at it. I'd usually only realize when I started eating it and noticed The Engineer bravely trying not to spit out his mouthful. I'd then have to start all over again with the rice and pot rigmarole - tiresome!
I eventually got to the point where the rice was almost cooked perfect. After tons of trial, error and timing the whole process with a stopwatch (when all else fails, rely on science), I got it to a point where only the grains at the sides of the pot were not really cooked properly. This problem was minor enough for me to say like all bad workmen and their tools: "It's the pot- that's why the rice doesn't cook evenly!"
After a year of going through 1, 2 and 3, I decided on a whim that I should just call it quits and buy a cooker. So here is my beauuutifooool new rice cooker. Ta-dah!
The interesting thing is, my South African lady friends who sometimes eat rice at home, think I'm daft to be complaining about cooking rice in a pot. They'd been doing the rice- with- a -pot thing since they were little and are experts at getting it exactly right - I know cause I've sampled some. One of them even asked:"What's a rice cooker?" when I mentioned my recent purchase. I was shocked and so were they but for different reasons.
They couldn't believe that someone who has grown up eating rice at almost every meal would not know how to cook it without a cooker and I couldn't believe that some of them hadn't even heard of a rice cooker! The differences among cultures can be so so very fascinating - even if it's only about rice cookers!