Generations & Cultures on Rice

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I make basmati rice with great ceremony. There’s no recipe; just intuition and method. A pot of rice represents oral history from a Palestinian woman, also an Iranian woman, and then of course my great grandmother who taught me not to open the lid until it was time to eat. Here are the stories and un-recipes of others . . .

Ahmed’s Story

My husband, Ahmed, fondly remembers his grandma and mum frying onion and potatoes then adding rice to the pot. Usually the cooking water was from a strained Maraq (long-cooked lamb broth). He would eat the meat on the side and he would pour even more broth on the rice. The whole conversation brought a gentle smile to his seemingly stoic exterior. An exterior often observed these days as he navigates the heartache spilling out from his country. And a smile much lie the smile I witness in his time with our boys.

Keila’s story

We have a few different types of rice, but one of my favourites is a simple white rice. My mum taught me to uncover right before I turn off the stove top to make a sort of mound with the rice then cover again. I never realised how this has become such a ritual for me, and it makes me thin of my mami every time too. — Keila

Moni’s Story

“I adore seeing the pot with the towel for rice! I am half-Iranian and while we had everyday. rice from the rice cooker most days, the best, best rice is made just like that [on the stove with a towel]” — Moni

LUNITA’S STORY

“My family is Colombian, but not opening the rice from the moment you put it on to the moment you eat it is rule number one! Making rice feels like home.”

Lily’s Story

“I do the exact thing, no history, no oral history, New England-born and -bred, but of that intuition is a woman’s power (well one of many).” — Lily

Yosra’s Story

“That’s still how I make my rice. Always with a towel or cloth around the lid!” — Yosra يُسْرىٰ

Aiysha’s Story

“We are floor sitters and rice eaters . . . and often eat rice while sitting on the floor. That’s pure Kashmiri culture. In Kashmiri, the word for ‘food’ and the word for ‘meal’ and the word for ‘cooked rice’ are the same: batt!” — Aiysha

Andrea’s Story

“Well, Puerto Ricans have a few different rice dishes but my favorite is the one with kidney beans and bacon (poor man’s substitute for ham but that’s how we always had it). My daughter especially loves our arroz con gandules or rice with pigeon peas. My husband loves it, too. I just started saving Puerto Rican dishes to learn to cook for myself since so much tradition is passed on through food. Right now, I’ve been enjoying making wild rice with a couple of thrown together recipes.” — Andrea

Sana’s story

“[Putting a towel around the pot] is exactly how my Ma and Nanu (grandmother) taught me how to make basmati rice. You are absolutely not to open the lid until everyone is seated and ready to eat” — Sana

Sarah’s story

“Warm rice and cold yoghurt. You just brought me back to my childhood!” — Sarah

Joubin’s story

“My mom says the same. I need to learn more Iranian dishes. Need to make sure my future family (Inshallah) knows what my mom was up to.” — Joubin

Taylor’s Story

“My grandmother taught we how to make rice. We’re Native Hawaiian/Chinese/Filipino. Rice is important to us. Her favorite is white short grain, so that’s my comfort rice. Nani taught me how to rinse the rice first, filling the pot halfway with warm water, spinning the rice with my hand and then draining it. Over and over about four or five times. She never pulled out measuring cups. The way she taught me to measure rice was to use my index finger. Once the rice was in the pot,she told me to dip my finger in. Touch the tip of my finger to the surface of the rice. The water should be up to the first line of my finger, no more, no less. This has never failed and makes perfectly cooked rice.

When I was little I would get dropped off at her house after school. Sometimes she had cooked sweet and sour pork or hot l, fried plum chicken, always with a pot of rice. She still does this. One of my favorite things is when she leaves the pot of rice on the stove and it’s lukewarm and has traces of the sauces she used from her using the same spoon she used to scoop her meat as her rice. I always eat those traces and hardly ever use utensils. I just go for it with my hands.” — Taylor

Sabrina’s Story

“I’m from a country in central Africa. There the women still pound wild rice in some areas. My grandma was from a tribe that did that. I used to run away when I’d see her pulling out the mortar because I knew it meant she was going to ask me to pound ( you’ve probably seen pictures of 3-4 women pounding in the same mortar taking their turn synchronized). I used to see it as the worse chore but how I miss it now. Even after my mom and her siblings gave grandma a modern kitchen, she still went outside to cook the rice (especially) on the wood. She’d say “wash the rice well and get fresh banana leaves to serve the rice in it, not the “fragile plate”! Rice tastes better served in leaves.”... typing this makes me emotional. What I used to see as embarrassing, now I cherish. To keep the rice warm, shed use a piece of traditional fabric and wrap the pot in it after the rice was cook and likewise, we don’t open until we are all gathered to eat from the same dish.” — Sabrina

Carrie’s Story

“I am a rice fiend. My parents claim I was sustained on it for most of my young life. So much so that my cousins still joke no one could get me to eat anything else. Always asking people for some “yellow (saffron) rice.” To this day, my favorite comfort food is jambalaya. The rice has to be added to the pot of meat and seasoning at just the right time, then topped with beef broth until perfectly textured.

My grandmother and mother always made it for family occasions and as I grew older, whenever I had a bad day (or a particularly good one), there is was on the stove...my mother’s knowing ways. Something to drown out the sorrows. Something to warm the soul. Something to celebrate. There it was. I make it now with the same love and attention to detail they did, thinking of their hands as mine dance around the stove to create it.” — Carrie