Food says so much about where you’ve come from, where you’ve decided to go, and the lessons you’ve learned. It’s geography, politics, tradition, belief and so much more and this week, we invite you to dig in and discover the rich, ever-evolving taste of America in 2011. The week will culminate with a Secret Supper in New York City, and Eatocracy invites you to participate online starting Monday July 11th at 6:30 p.m. E.T.
Risotto, pilau, rice pudding, bibimbop, arancini, arroz con pollo, biryani, congee, etouffee, paella, nasi goreng, red beans and rice, onigiri, dolma, dirty rice: nearly every nation on Earth uses rice in its staple dishes.
We turned to our worldwide community of iReporters to let tell us how this simple cereal grain keeps them tied to their culture's cuisine, feeds their stomachs and souls - and in once case, even found them true love.
For iReporter Deddy Mansyur, eating rice instantly takes him back to his childhood in Indonesia. He says, “Rice is economical and very filling. In my culture, feeding a large family with meats and vegetables can be costly, but it's very much needed. Rice stretches a meal. With a medium sized bowl of rice, one can take his or her hand or chopstick and pick up a small ball of rice along with a tiny bit of their main entree and fill up that way a lot better without eating up all of the main course.”
The karate instructor, who adheres to a vegan diet, says that rice has kept his family of 12 siblings healthy throughout the years. "I tell people, rice is not the bad guy, it's what you cook in with and how you live your life that makes the difference in your health."
Rice doesn't just feed the body in India; it feeds the soul and spirit as well. Sobhana Venkatesan conforms to a strict Hindu sattvic diet that consists of milk, fruit, rice and vegetables. Venkatesan said, “Rice grains are held in high esteem in our culture. There is a festival when the paddy is sown and there is another when it is harvested. The women around the river deltas pray to Mother Nature around these seasons.”
He continues, "One who desires the sattvic qualities (or sattva guna) of physical fitness, concentration when doing tasks, control over their emotions and purity of mind, thought, word and deed, will strictly follow this diet, which will help him, lead a life filled with wisdom, cheerfulness and harmony. The sattvic energy we get from the food we eat brings us closer to the Divine and towards spirituality, peace and bliss."
It's not just an afterthought in the Philippines, either. In her iReport, “Staple food for Filipinos,” Lia Ocampo explains the importance of rice to her culture. She says, “Filipinos can’t live without rice. Every single Filipino family has rice in their pantry and it is cooked during meals. I do eat rice at least once or twice a day. Rice is a culture and a way of life for Filipinos.”
Thailand-based iReporter Duang Chaturapitaporn is no stranger to eating duck and rice for breakfast. He explains, “In my culture, we don't have an exact type of breakfast. The first dish we eat in the day is breakfast regardless to the kind of food. So don't be surprised if you visit here and see people having a pork fried rice or roasted duck on rice for their breakfast in the morning. It's quite common here.”
For Shari Atukorala, rice is must-have item in her diet. Atukorala is from Sri Lanka, and she says, “Rice is made in different ways like milk rice for breakfast which is cooked with coconut milk and eaten with a spicy sambol. Rice is eaten everyday; it is a must for Sri Lankans. It is mainly eaten for lunch, but in some villages people have it three times a day.”
She notes that red rice or white samba rice is seen as being especially healthy, but it takes "a lot of gravy to put down." It's also used to temper the heat of curries.
Cajun food has been a part of iReporter Shawn Yujuico's life for as long as she can remember. Yujuico says, “Rice is at the heart of my culture’s cuisine, as well as my husband’s on his father’s side. Growing up we were poor at times – even receiving food stamps and rice was a mainstay for our family. There were always many mouths to feed as my extended family is very large and an abundance of rice stretched every meal into a satisfying feast.”
When she met her husband, she knew it was a match that would last because among his spare kitchen furnishings, he had a rice cooker. "I could love this man," she says.
"I made my way to his heart through the kitchen cooking up rice-based favorites including gumbo and etouffee. Now, we have two children, whose ancestry includes French Canadian on my side and Phillipino his side. Rice is in their blood! My four year old daughter regularly implores me to make jambalaya and insists that we call the dirty rice 'clean rice' or she won't eat it. I continue to pass on my love for this simple food that serves so many and gives so much pleasure and sustenance."
Is rice just a side dish for you, or does it mean something more? Share your photos and stories and participate in the CNN iReport cultural census and in the comments below. We can’t wait to see what you share for dinner.