It’s often been said that “Charlestonians are like Chinese: They eat rice, worship their ancestors and speak in a language that’s hard to understand.”
I didn’t move to the Lowcountry until I was 13, but my love of rice certainly makes me feel like a native.
For those of you who consider rice just a nice side dish, this column might not be for you.
If, however, rice can be a meal in itself, then we need to talk.
As far as I’m concerned, rice can be consumed at breakfast, lunch or dinner. It works just as well with a fried egg and country ham as it does underneath shrimp creole.
Rice absorbs the flavor of whatever it’s cooked with. It’s certainly acceptable to simply add some butter and salt to a small spoonful of rice if that’s your style. But if you truly consider yourself to be a bona fide long grain lovin’, moist and fluffy, steamed, top-of-the-oven kind of rice eater, then you know that a plateful of it with something on top is how true professionals make it happen.
I like barbecue, but I will always go back for seconds if the rice and hash is available.
Beans and rice?
The options are limitless, but here are some taste-tempting, tried-and-true combinations: black beans/rice, lima beans/rice or navy beans/rice.
And let’s not forget red beans/rice, black-eyed peas/rice or field peas/rice. And we’re not done. I put chili over rice and just love beef stew over it, as well.
Once upon a time
For almost 200 years, Charleston was the leading rice producer in the United States.
Rice fields lined both sides of the Ashley River. Enslaved Africans actually taught many of the planters how to grow and harvest it. No question, Charleston was the birthplace of rice in America.
Even now, rice is the most widely consumed staple food for most of the world’s population. Name a country, they have a rice dish.
In Egypt, kushari contains lentils, tomato sauce, fried onions and rice.
Korea creates something called bibimbap, which is mixed vegetables and rice.
Iran has a dish called baghali polo that is rice with lima beans. Apparently, many of us the world-over appreciate a good plate of it, with almost anything else on top of it.
There are different iterations of the white, fluffy grains that take the form of wild rice, brown rice, yellow rice and red rice. Some folks even like to eat dirty rice!
Too many cooks
I wouldn’t consider myself enough of a rice aficionado to require the commodity only be cooked in a Charleston rice steamer. Ever see one of those three-piece aluminum pots?
Rice simmering on a stove in a simple pot or even in one of the newer little rice steamers works just fine.
I’m not a fan of sticky rice, and we’re not even dealing here with an entire subculture of folks who love their rice perlo.
If none of the 76 various ways to enjoy rice mentioned earlier appeals to you, we can still be friends. As a matter of fact, sometimes just a simple, big spoonful of the right gravy can make that plate of rice plenty tasty.
Want to make it extra good? Have two plates.
The purpose here was just to whet your appetite and let you know why so many folks in the Lowcountry love it so much.
Consider our conversation nothing more than a rice-breaker.
Reach Warren Pepper at 937-5577 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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