Have you ever wondered about the history of rice in Asia? Why do they have a lot of rice culture and cuisines? Today we’ll take a glimpse between culture and grain in this brand new post.
History of Rice in Asia
Evidences show that rice was seen in 7000 BC, near the Yellow River. Then on, the spread went further south to Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines and until it reached India.
It was during 2500BC that people were already growing rice in the Ganges Valley in the north. Silk Road traders are thought to be the carrier of rice from Asia to Greece and the rest of the world.
Rice is already notable during the Roman Empire and it slowly reached West Africa in the Middle Ages.
Asian Rice Varieties
Rice has evolved over the centuries and it was diversified into different species. We know that rice comes from Oryza which has 2 types of species.
The oryza sativa (Asian rice) and oryza glaberrima (African rice).
The Asian rice or oryza sativa has 2 sub-species we are all familiar with: Japonica and Indica.
Japonica or Sinica
Japonica rice variety grows in northern and eastern China where the climate is cool. The grains are short and round. It has low amylose content which makes it sticky when cooked.
There is another Japonica variety called Javanica or Tropical Japonica growing in the high elevated terraces of the Cordillera in the Philippines.
Its grains are long, broad, thick and are also sticky due to low amylose content. Two known culitvars are ‘Tinawon’ and ‘Unoy’.
The Indica variety on the other hand is thriving in the countries of India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Central and Southern China, The Philippines, and some African countries.
Indica plants are tall and with light green leaves. Their grain range from short to long shatters easily and contains high amylose content.
It is drier and flaky compared to the Japonica variety.
Asian Rice Culture
There are different rice cultures in every region and country where rice is planted. Each has its own unique celebration towards how rice and rice farming greatly affected their lives.
Commonly they attribute rice as a gift from God and so it is an obligation to give blessings and offerings. If you have read the post about the history of rice in China and Japan, you will see how devoted the people are in terms of their rice culture.
Another good read was about the different types of rice in India wherein we can say that almost all cultures surrounding Asia have the same appreciation about rice, its plant and the method. Various planting and harvesting festivals are celebrated across these countries.
Famous Rice Dishes in Asia
If you think cooking rice is a difficult task, well not in Asia. It is actually the most basic kitchen operation throughout all households.
The cooking methods may vary but one thing is common, they all cook perfect rice! Because of Asia’s deep roots in rice farming and production, our ancestors have created magical rice recipes.
In fact, all rice dishes we know about worldwide can be traced to its Asian origin. Let’s say take a look at these famous rice dishes below:
Chao Fan of China
This is another name for Chinese fried rice. Of course, who doesn’t like fried rice? Its history dates back to the Sui dynasty (589–618 CE).
Fried rice was a way of preventing food waste. Stir-frying is a cooking technique which allows heat to kill and prevent the propagation of microbes.
The first ever Chao Fan was so basic. It was a combination of left over rice, vegetables, meat, soy sauce, lard, and garlic. Today, there are so many Chinese fried rice versions around the globe yet the taste is still distinct and colorful.
Nasi Tumpeng of Indonesia
Indonesians have their special rice dish called Tumpeng commonly featured during the Slamatan ceremony. Tumpeng is cone-shaped rice with yellow color (due to turmeric) with different side dishes of meat, eggs, seafood, and vegetables.
You can find Tumpeng in places like Java, Bali and Madura. Nasi Tumpeng symbolizes gratitude during special occasions and the cone-shaped rice is given to the guest of honor.
Bibimbap of Korea
One of my favorite rice dishes is Bibimbap of Korea. Bibimbap literally means mixed rice. It is usually a bowl of white rice topped with sautéed and seasoned vegetables, chili paste, and soy bean paste.
You can add meat and seafood on top of the mixture for additional flavor.
This famous Korean rice dish was first eaten by rice farmers during the planting and harvesting season because it was the easiest to make.
Economy Rice of Singapore and Malaysia
If you are somewhere in Singapore or Malaysia, do not miss out on trying their famous rice dish called Economy rice. This recipe was of Chinese descent and with touches of Indonesian Nasi Tumpeng.
Economy rice is consists of steamed rice topped with vegetables, meat, tofu, and eggs. You can find this famous dish all over the streets of Singapore and Malaysia which they refer to as “home-cooked meal”.
Mohinga of Myanmar
This dish is considered to be the national dish of Myanmar. Mohinga is a soup consists of rice noodles, fish soup, toasted rice, lemon grass, crushed chili, and coriander.
Mohinga is available as an ‘all-day breakfast’ meal in many towns and cities of Myanmar. This dish is also sold by street hawkers where they usually have regular customers looking for Mohinga.
Rice in Asia is well-rooted throughout ages. We don’t know where the rice seeds may have first originated or how it was invented but one thing is clear, it made the world survive hunger.
In case you might have the chance to stroll and explore Asia, do not forget to try out their famous rice dishes we mentioned earlier. You will really taste and feel the fusion in every bite. Of course don’t forget to share us your experiences in the comments below! Enjoy!