October 19, 2006

One Grain, Two Grain, Three Grain, Four

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On a lovely block in downtown Manhattan, Nolita if you will, there is a most special restaurant. One of my favorite places for a delicious and wholly satisfying meal, Rice is a hidden gem. Nearly all of the creative dishes prepared at Rice are based on its title food; all “classic entrees” are served “with your choice of rice”. You may ask, how many choices could there be? Brown rice for those concerned with health and white rice for those who like to stick with the classics, no? No! There are ten choices of rice to choose from to complement your meal. The traditional rices: basmati, brown, Japanese, and sticky; and the special rices: Thai black, green, Lebanese, rice and peas, Thai black with edamame peas and Bhutanese. Oh my.
Base an entire establishment on only one food? Preposterous? No! Rice is an incredibly important food. Not only the complement to sushi and an excellent curry, more than one fifth of all calories consumed by human beings come from rice (Wikepedia.com). Rice is an excellent crop for countries and regions with “low labour costs and high rainfall, as it is very labour-intensive to cultivate and requires plenty of water for irrigation” (Wikepedia.com). Historically and today, in both Asia and Africa, rice is grown and consumed in huge quantities.
Perhaps as a result of centuries of trade and exploration, rice is now consumed in many parts of the world. Rice has been modified and reinterpreted to reflect various traditions and ethnicities. For example, paella is a traditional Spanish dish made of seafood, pork, chicken and red peppers mixed into yellow rice. The yellow rice, the base of the dish, is colored as such because of infused saffron. Likely because of the ease with which rice can be grown, in addition to the economic benefits of using rice as the complement, or mainstay, of a meal, rice has become popular all over the world.
Now, how to choose among the many rices at Rice? To guide you in this decision, here’s some information on the traditional options. In Hindi, basmati means “Queen of Fragrance”. Most always served at Indian and Pakistani restaurants, basmati rice is a long grain known for its sweet fragrance. When cooked, basmati rice grows only in length and as such, it is eaten as an unusually long and slender grain. Basmati rice is a sweet complement to a curry and can be found in both white and brown varieties.
Brown or “hulled” rice is a most healthy option. Rice is described as brown when the outermost layer of the grain is removed. If both the outermost layer and the bran layer below are both removed, white rice is the result. Many vitamins and minerals are lost when the bran layer is removed. Today, the Food and Drug Administration requires that white rice is “enriched”; certain nutrients are added back to white rice after the bran layer has been removed. Certain minerals, however, cannot be added back to white rice. Such a mineral is magnesium; “one cup of cooked long grain brown rice contains 84 milligrams of magnesium while one cup of white rice contains 19 milligrams” (Wikepedia.com). Because brown rice includes the bran layer of the grain, it is much richer in nutrients.
The Japanese variety of rice is a sticky medium grain referred to as “Japonica”. Japonica is softer than brown rice but boasts many of the same health benefits. Because of the interest the Japanese government has in supporting self-sufficiency, nearly all rice consumed in Japan is Japonica.
The oh-so-popular sticky rice. Formally, sticky rice may be called glutinous rice. (In spite of its name, glutinous rice does not contain gluten. The word glutinous means “glue-like” or “sticky” and comes from the Latin word glutinosus.) Most commonly consumed in Laos and Northeastern Thailand, sticky rice is sticky because it has very little or no amylose and high amounts of amylopetic; amylopectin is responsible for the stickiness (Wikepedia.com). It is important to differentiate between most varieties of rice that become sticky when cooked and “sticky rice” made from glutinous rice.
When you visit Rice (and I hope you do), you should now find yourself an informed customer. What rice you choose will surely affect your dining experience. I hope your choice brings happiness. (Good news: the delicious food at Rice is available not only on Mott Street, but also at 115 Lexington at 28th Street and in Dumbo at 81 Washington Street. A personal suggestion: try the Indian Chicken Curry with basmati rice. The combination is nearly too good to be true.)