You don’t think about rice much. That’s unless you work in a sushi restaurant perhaps. Most people don’t even eat rice in the world. The ones who do tend to be labelled AZN but in truth, plenty non AZNs eat rice too. I’ve actually been thinking about it a lot recently. Partly because Rene Redzepi made an unusual dessert from it in the last edition of Cook It Raw. Partly because my housemate decided to start making moonshine/makgeolli (he’s Singaporean to boot, not Korean). Partly because I work in a Japanese restaurant.

When I was young, I used to eat a lotta rice. I used to get double serves all the time. My grandma called me rice bucket/fan tong. I think all AZN kids might be like this regardless of whether you’re Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indian, Malay, Thai or whatever… We eat a lotta rice. I didn’t hate eating the blandness at all. I often found that I needed it to eat some delicious sauce or whatever. It was the perfect complement.

I was also spoiled, growing up in Singapore. I got good rice. Whether it was the intricate stock steamed perfection of Chicken Rice or the saffron looseness of briyani or perfectly loose and golden egg coated fried rice, it was always good. Of course, I also had the experience of cooking rice as a child, putting my hand into the pot to feel for the water to rice ratio. If I screwed it up, I’d get a soggy mess or maybe crunchy cereal.

As I got older, my family’s tastes gravitated toward Japanese short or medium grain rice. We liked the firmer bite and the texture. When I moved to Sydney, the rice of choice now, is restricted to Korean medium grain that is cooked in a Cuckoo, a talking rice cooker which is also a pressure cooker. This is often mixed with black rice or brown rice, which I abhor. I like it whiter than white. I’m totes rice-ist in this respect. Coloured rice I label as grains, not rice. Cuckoo is amazing. Not only does it sing out when the rice is ready, it also hisses a load of steam to let you know it’s cooked well under pressure. This pressure is what enables the rice to typically come out bloody perfect. So much so that everytime I eat rice out of a Cuckoo at home, I’m extolling it’s virtues. Koreans make the best home rice cookers.

Pressure is hugely important in cooking rice. Jiro Ono knows this to be true. In the documentary, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, they are shown to cook the rice with a great weight on the lid of the pot. This produces the pressure necessary to cook the rice well. It’s totally neglected in a lot of older rice cookers and how most people cook rice. The Koreans and Japanese know what’s up when it comes to applying pressure to rice.

Working in a Japanese restaurant, I’m up close and personal with washing rice. We use two types of rice. One for sushi and one for plain white rice. The sushi rice is spectacular. It’s up there with the best I’ve had, in Japan/Korea/China/Singapore etc. It’s maybe not the best of the best but we’re getting into a rarefied atmosphere. The plain rice is less so. I like to eat the sushi rice before and after the vinegar is mixed in. This tells you if it’s been soaked well, washed well and cooked with the right amount of water. I think our cooker lacks great pressure but the rice itself does the trick.

I also learned about Uncle Ben’s, a brand of parboiled rice that always comes out perfect and is totally idiot proof. The texture is just superb because they do most of the work for you. I had this at a Turkish/kebab type joint in Surry Hills. The only drawback is that it doesn’t have that fresh cooked flavour, in fact, it’s got a bit of a metallic twang to it that’s not noticeable if you’re eating it with smelly chargrilled goat.

One of my best rice experiences came at Thai Pothong, in Newtown. Thai’s use fragrant jasmine rice and at most joints, they can come up with soft, soggy stuff that’s not all that great. Actually, in general, I’d rate South East Asia as poorer skilled in cooking rice versus the Koreans and Japanese. So when I had jasmine rice that was firm but fluffy and delicious as is, it was awesome.

When it comes to basmati though, I’m not a big fan. I think of basmati as a different beast, something that’s got great flavour but something that also needs flavour. It’s not blandly tasty like long/medium/short grains. It’s a skinny, starchless anomaly of it’s own. Again, I just see it as different to what I typically think of as rice. I’m sure my perspective would be totally different were I born in South Asia. Still, personal preference or not, I think rice that’s fluffy, firm and texturally intriguing with a seeming blandness is absolute perfection. Basmati, for me, has a one note kinda of texture and has too much flavour going on which detracts so it needs to be paired with something. I like rice you can eat by itself without any accompaniments and yet be completely enthralled by. This last part is the most difficult to achieve but it’s what I aspire.

Recently, I had the opportunity to further appreciate the wonder that is well cooked rice. I ate at a food court in an outer Sydney suburb and it was a revelation in how to make a rice smudge. I was taught to eat all the grains or I’d get pimples/African kids would haunt my dreams… I couldn’t. It was despicable. A crime. It taught me that some people just don’t care at all about the simple things but these very things are actually the most important.

Respect rice.

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