Sunday, June 1, 2008

Dzongkha, with rice on the side

Dzongkha is the national language of Bhutan. Until a few moments ago, I only thought it was a L'artisan perfume (which I am wearing at present). Dzongkha (the perfume) has now overtaken my love for L'artisan's Passage D'enfer, which is too bad, for I've only got .5ml of the stuff and it's going to run out quickly if I keep up my wearing of it. It is both woody and clean, smelling slightly of soap.

I have no idea if the scent Dzongkha is evocative of Bhutan. I've never been there. The only thing I am intimate with that is Bhutanese is their red rice (which is delicious).

I hated rice when I was a kid. Rice, to me, was this outrageously white stuff, quite dry, with absolutely no taste. It needed butter (though I recall we used margarine, adding insult to injury). It was a waste of plate space. Why eat the stuff? I suppose this is akin to asking why eat Wonder Bread, but in truth, Wonder Bread has a lot more flavor than the rice of my childhood (and Wonder Bread and butter sandwiches are fantastic, especially when cut into strips and used liked little airplanes that fly into ones' mouth along with the sound effects of dive bombers).

The rice at Chinese restaurants was much better. When I was quite little, I hated Chinese food, but did like the rice (yes, I know I said I hated rice above, but I meant the rice at home). I can recall quite clearly sitting in a dark Chinese restaurant, having made a terrible mess of my rice. It was everywhere, on my clothes, the tablecloth and the fake plastic seat. I have no idea how old I was, but I suspect I was quite young and probably sitting in a booster seat or upon a stack of phone books (that wouldn't work in Maine, for the phone books are at best one inch thick). Have you ever seen a New York City phonebook? It's massive (and has more than one volume these days).

I didn't fully appreciate rice until I had a Japanese boyfriend in my first year of college. Good Japanese rice, while stickier and perhaps not to ones liking on account of that, is full of flavor (if it's fresh - very important). My boyfriend showed my how to measure the rice and water with the knuckles on my fingers, the way his mother did it, and this seemed quite important to him and to the rice. Using a measuring cup was considered just wrong. Perhaps it is a source of pride to be able to measure rice without instruments with numbers on them. I don't know. But what I do know is that I learned not only how to measure it the old fashioned way but that sometimes one had a sense that more or less water was needed for the same amount of rice. It depended on ones mood and the weather, but intellectually, knowing how one knew this made no sense.

Now I no longer cook rice in this fashion. I have a Zojirushi Neuro Fuzzy Rice Cooker. The thing is a wonder. And the real wonder is that it scientifically backs up the idea that on certain days one needs more or less water, cooking time and such. It doesn't sense your mood, no, but it cooks rice perfectly, even if you happen to forget how much rice you've measured into it and then messed up the amount of water. It will compensate. It senses the temperature of the rice, the air, the moisture: everything (except the aforementioned mood).

I am not, unfortunately, getting a kickback from Zojirushi.

I would be quite sad if my rice cooker broke down. And it will some day, I'm sure. It's not a cheap appliance, especially since it does only one thing (though you can make oatmeal in it, too). But it is, hands down, my favorite appliance (besides the stove and refrigerator). I've owned a Cuisinart, many blenders, toasters, toaster ovens and coffee makers, but that rice cooker is the appliance I'd feel lost without. Sure, I can cook rice on the stove. But I love my Neuro Fuzzy. It's also damned cute (and I put a silly sticker on it, something that is totally out of character for me).

There are many varieties of rice, way more than that wretched Minute Rice I ate when I was a kid. There's Bhutanese red rice, Himalyan red rice (which is probably the same thing), Japanese short grain, medium and long grain, both in brown and white, Thai Jasmine rice, Indian Basmati white rice and Basmati brown rice, Italian arborio rice, Wehani rice, wild rice (not really rice, actually), Louisiana rice, Chinese black rice and Japanese black rice (which cook up purple), and more. I have read that there are four thousand varieties of rice though the amount in production is much lower than that.

I'm not an expert. The folks at the International Rice Institute are.

This is one of those posts where I started out wanting to write one thing and forgot all about it. The truth is, I don't have much more to say about Dzongkha. I've already said plenty, in which I swoon. The truth is, the only reason I'm posting anything is that I want to offset the various whiney posts I've put up lately about Hillary Clinton.

I do encourage anyone who is neutral about rice to try an exotic one. A word of caution, however; the black rice is best used in combination with something else. It is intense, to say the least. Put a small handful in a pot of Japanese white and it will color the whole thing purple, plus give it a nutty flavor. Or better yet, cook them separately and then mix them together. It's a pain (unless you have two rice cookers), but it's worth it.

Painting note: Bhutanese wall painting, unattributed.

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