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Thursday, September 5, 2013

Cursed, Part 1--An Ode to Rice

Like most Asians, Filipinos love to eat rice. They eat rice at almost every meal. It’s their staple food, their go-to food, the ultimate comfort food. No Pinoy meal is complete without it.
Just as Eskimos have many words for snow, Filipinos also have several words that refer to (no, not snow) rice—they have about seven.
There’s kanin, which means cooked rice; palay—unhusked rice; bigas—husked, uncooked rice; bahaw—leftover kanin; tutong—the burnt part of kanin; binlidbigas that got crushed during the milling process; in some Visayan languages in the country's south, there’s even a term for the unhusked rice (palay) that got accidentally mixed with bigas: pasi.
They eat rice with ulam, which many Filipinos think is viand in the English language (it’s not). An ulam is any dish, usually protein, eaten in tandem with rice--it makes scarfing down platefuls of hot, steaming kanin more enjoyable. The ulam is usually strong-tasting ones like the adobo, a dish so tasty that a nibble can flavor several mouthfuls of rice.

This adobo is about ready to repent--it looks absolutely sinful.

Ulam can be vegetable, fish, or meat-based. Some even make an ulam out of pancit (fine noodles cooked with bits of meat or shrimp and vegetables, seasoned with soy sauce, and is a complete meal in itself). 
For Filipinos, meals revolve around rice. When they see an unfamiliar foreign dish, their first thought is usually, “Will that go well with rice?” And if the dish looks so mouth-watering it requires no identification, they’d exclaim, “That would be so delicious with rice!” (Ang sarap niyan sa kanin!)
To many Filipinos, all other foods are there to enhance the experience of the consumption of kanin

There are also those who say that they are not “busog” (the feeling of fullness in one’s stomach after eating a hearty meal—not just satisfied, mindthe stomach needs to be distended to get that busog feeling) if rice is not included in their meal. 
To bolster the feeling of being busog, they drink a glass or two of water after eating, after which they sigh audibly (ahhh), indicating that they are, indeed, busog.

A cold, sweating glass of water is the perfect end for a typical Filipino meal. Without it, the dining experience is incomplete. That glass of cold water is the Dorothy Boyd to the meal that is Jerry McGuire.
"You complete me."
Suffice it to say, Filipinos have almost a mystical-like veneration towards rice—wasting it is a huge no-no, and, for farmers who slog through muddy rice fields cultivating this gift from the gods, willfully destroying (gasp!) the plants that bear these life-giving grains is considered a sacrilege that merits a curse from the anitos. They call this curse, “busong.” 

This is why I am skeptical that the reported attack on genetically-modified rice plants that occurred last August 8 in an IRRI (International Rice Research Institute) research field in Bicol was indeed carried out by rice farmers. No sane rice farmer would even dream of destroying live rice plants.


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