If you talk to maybe most any first-gen Southeast Asian, what you'll find is that rice is a big deal. No. It's not just a staple; it's a really big deal. There are songs about it.
I concluded yesterday that Filipinos in particular are weird about rice. I don't excuse myself from that statement. When I first tasted rice outside my parents' house, I was appalled by its strange consistency. The rice I grew up with is stubby, and not quite sticky but sticky enough to squeeze into airtight balls if you like to eat with your fingers.
It took some time to learn that rice has many faces, only one of which I came to know intimately - the kind that comes with the little red medal. The use of the red medal is actually a splendid sales tactic, considering I'd push my otherwise indifferent parents to patronize whatever brand it was so I could tear the medal off the rice bag for use in various games of pretend, like pinning it to the clothes of Angela the Olympic Winner or attaching it to very valuable wills for discovery by Angela the Sexy Spy. Don't ask when.
But I digress. For the last few weeks I've been working with a new marketing trainee that I happen to know really well. In fact, together we wiled away our Fil-Am centric youths battling imaginary foes in swamp-side Vallejo.
Yesterday I took him to an Indian restaurant and he sat staring at his rice for over 10 minutes because it was so long and dry. "Where do they find it?" he asked, perplexed. He didn't look up at me the whole time.
"India," I answered. This was probably not the best or most accurate answer but under the circumstances it did neither harm nor good.
He picked at it. "They put spices in here," he observed softly. "There's ... a flavour."
"It is good with yogurt," I said mechanically. At that point I disengaged myself from the conversation and began eating my curry. I wish I'd known that hours later I'd again be condemned to more rice-talk.
Me to my parents as I dug through the rice cooker, less than 4 hours later: "Dude. Why do you guys make rice that's half brown and half white?"
Mom: "What do you mean?"
Me, teasing: "It's, like, both brown and white. Can you not make up your minds?"
Mom started to laugh. "We have to mix so your daddy will eat it," she said. "This way at least it's still half-healthy."
I carried my rice-laden plate to the kitchen table, where my pops gave me that smug look and said, "See, Angel, if it's all brown, it's ..." He seemed to be at a loss. "Terrible."
"Terrible? Is that the best you can do?" I said. Really. He's normally devastating on the rapier-wit scale. It's a point of pride, even. Possibly the rice thing draws less-than-rational sentiments.
He started to laugh. "You have to put some white in so it's edible," he replied finally.
I didn't pursue this realm of logic further. But today at the office I mentioned the exchange to my trainee, sans ending, and he just looked at me strangely and said, "Half brown, half white? I bet that tastes hella good. Isn't it healthier too?"