Asia, the largest continent in the world – with a total of 48 countries – is a melting pot of race and culture. That being said, there is a common dish found across its cuisine: Rice. Grown in every continent on earth, with the exception of Antarctica, it is the third-highest worldwide production, after sugarcane and maize. So what makes it the ultimate Asian dish?
Asia alone both produces and consumes 90% of the world’s rice
In 2016, the top 10 rice producing countries were Pakistan at 2.85 million hectares (approximately 2.85 million rugby fields combined), Cambodia (2.90), Philippines (4.50), Burma (6.80), Vietnam (7.66), Thailand (9.65), Bangladesh (12.00), Indonesia (12.16), China (30.35), and finally India at 43.20 million hectares.
Link to ancient Asian folklore
In India, rice is associated to the Hindu God of Wealth, Lakshmi a.k.a Annapurna (provider of a bounty of rice). In Bali, Hindus believe that it was the power of Vishnu that created rice from nothing, while Indra (God of Bad Weather), taught the people to cultivate their own rice; hence, the use of waterlogged soil. In Japan, rice is associated with the sun goddess Amaterasu, who ruled both the sun and heavenly fields of rice. In Thailand, Mae Phosop is considered to be the ‘mother of rice’ deity. She is commonly depicted as a beautiful woman wearing a red dress with extravagant jewellery, holding a sheaf of harvested rice on her right shoulder.
Not all rice is made equal
Being the oldest known food still consumed today, years of cross-pollination and genetic modification has resulted in over 40,000 varieties of cultivated rice. The varieties can be narrowed down into three types of rice grain: short, medium and long. Long-grains are dry, firm, and stay fluffy after being separated after cooking (eg: Basmati and Jasmine). Medium-grains produce the most moisture, making them tender and slightly chewy, which is why they’re commonly used in risottos and paellas (eg: Arborio and Valencia). Short-grain rice is only a tiny bit longer than its width. Known for sticking and clumping together, it is commonly used to make sushi.
A celebration of rice
In Asia, inhabitants generously commemorate various ancient festivals dedicated to the agricultural cycle of growing and harvesting food, most notably rice. Here are a few examples:
In Malaysia and Brunei, a World Harvest Festival takes place, featuring members of the Dayak community together with neighbours from Thailand, Indonesia and Philippines.
In Thailand, the Royal Ploughing Ceremony is an ancient royal rite held in Cambodia and Thailand to mark the beginning of the rice-growing season.
In Japan, a grand ceremony is held in the Sumiyoshi Taisha Shrine for the annual Otaue Rice Planting Festival. The festival has become a popular tourist attraction, thanks to the spectacular dance performances, which are believed to enhance the vitality of the grains.
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