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Grandma's Kitchen:   The Story of Rice

You wash it, you cook it and you probably eat it daily. Rice is the staple food for 99% of Asia and revered the same way chips and potatoes are in the UK.

Every week or every month, we lug back bags of rice to have with our curries, dahl, sambals and even just soya sauce and a fried egg. Rice is the accessory that completes any outfit.

Yet, do we know anything about the origins and history of our favorite food? Probably not, so we have decided to put together some tales and stories of why rice has played such an important part in Asian history and culture.

For example, did you know that folklore tells us that when the Kachins of northern Myanmar were sent from the centre of the Earth, they were given seeds of rice and were directed to a wondrous country where everything was perfect and where rice grew well.

In Bali, it is also believed that the Lord Vishnu caused the Earth to give birth to rice, and the God Indra taught the people how to raise it. In both tales, rice is considered a gift of the Gods. Even today in both places rice is still treated with reverence, and its cultivation is tied to elaborate rituals.

Chinese myth on the other hand tells of rice being a gift of animals rather than of Gods. Stories arose after a dog was found wandering across a field after a flood and crops had been destroyed. On the dog's tale were bunches of long, yellow seeds. The people planted these seeds and rice grew, causing hunger to disappear.

Throughout China today, tradition holds that "the precious things are not pearls and jade but the five grains," of which rice is first.

In Japan and according to the Shinto belief, the Emperor of Japan is the living embodiment of Ninigo-no-mikoto, the God of the ripened rice plant.

In addition, language and linguistic evidence also points to the early origin of cultivated rice in this same Asian archipelago. In several regional languages the general terms for rice and food, or for rice and agriculture, are synonymous.

Such is not the case in any other part of the world. Religious writings and practices are also seen as evidence of the longevity of rice as a staple item of the diet.

Both Hindu and Buddhist scriptures make frequent references to rice, and in both religions, the grain is used as a major offering to the gods.

Archeologists have found evidence that rice was an important food in Mohenjo-Daro as early as 2500 B.C. and in the Yangtze Basin in the late Neolithic period.

Pottery shards bearing the imprint of both grains and husks have been discovered at Non Nok Tha in the Korat area of Thailand.

These remains have been confirmed as dating from at least 4000 B.C., thus being possibly the earliest discovery of rice.

However, combine this with the findings of grain in the Spirit Cave on the Thai-Myanmar border, dating back to 10,000 B.C., and you could have rice going back further than anybody has ever imagined.

So next time, you look at that bowl of rice on your dinner table, think just a little bit of how far and long it has traveled to become the most popular food in the world. History in the making with every rice bowl you eat.

maxis.net logoArticle reprinted with permission from Maxis Net.
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