Saturday, May 14, 2011

My Dad is SO Arab: Rice

My father, being from the Middle East, loves rice. Some people are very familiar with the Arab's love affair with the food staple, and it's an odd love affair if you think about it. Rice is grown in tropical areas with heavy rainfall. Those are two geographical terms that do not apply to the Middle East. The Arab's love of rice is a fantastic example of cultural exchange. The Silk Road should have been called the Rice Road as far as the Middle East is concerned.

My family eats rice with every single meal. No joke. With the exception of the rare meal that Mom convinced Daddy to allow mashed potatoes instead of rice, we had a heaping platter of Basmati every night (and even on mashed potato nights, Daddy would still heat up a plate of leftover rice so he could have his choice of starch with his dinner). My dad loves rice so much that one time, when Mom made spaghetti, he made a pot of rice for himself and put the pasta sauce on that instead of noodles.

He's such a good Arab. Like my dad, Saudis also love them some rice.

Examples of Saudis' love affair with rice: 1. The national dish of Saudi Arabia is Kebsa. It's a rice-based dish with spices and a roasted or fried chicken on top (whole or half). Other variations include lamb and beef kebsa (as seen above).

2. When I went to a Saudi friend's house for lunch, her mom made magloubah, and Arabic rice-based dish with potatoes, eggplant, chicken and spices. I've asked this same friend to teach me how to cook an easy Saudi dish so I can make it for my family while the Mister and I are home this summer. I asked her if she could think of any dishes that didn't include rice. She was stumped.

3. Just about every meal you get at restaurants has rice as an option for the side dish.

4. The rice aisle in a grocery store at home consists of roughly 2 or 3 brands in small bags or boxes. The rice aisle in a Saudi grocery store starts at the front door, spans the entire width and
contains no less than 15 different brands and types of rice.

Examples of my dad's love affair with rice: One time the Mister and I came over for dinner and he was checking out what Daddy had decided was on the menu. He lifted the lid of the large stew pot and started laughing. He said he was surprised by the enormous amount of rice that was in the pot--there was no stew! That was the rice pot. There were only 5 of us having dinner that night. When we asked Daddy why he'd cooked to feed a small army he shrugged and said, "You know. Rice never goes bad. I'll eat the rest tomorrow."

One time my sister brought a college friend over for dinner. Like any meal, Daddy made a ridiculous amount of rice (there were 7 of us eating this time). As he proudly placed the gigantic platter of rice in the middle of the table, my sister's friend smiled, complimented the meal and cheerily said, "You know, I've never had rice before."

You would have thought she'd just told Daddy that she needed him to jump start her space ship. He stopped, his body stooped over his chair because he was in the middle of sitting down, looked around the table as if to check to make sure we'd all heard the words, jaw gaping open and said, "You're not serious."

She kind of giggled and explained that no, she'd never had rice before but she was very excited to try it. My dad was still in total disbelief.

"You mean you haven't had rice in a long time. Or you've never had this kind of rice?" Dad said, hoping to find some kind of logical explanation as to why this girl had been deprived to the pleasure of the starchy goodness.

"No. I mean maybe I have had rice and didn't know it..." my sister's friend trailed off, her face almost apologetic.

Well that just opened the floodgates. It was my dad's new mission to introduce this girl to the world's best food. He immediately grabbed her plate and started piling the rice on--spoonful after heaping spoonful. He kind of chuckled to himself maniacally as my sister and the rest of my family said, "Dad!! She might not like it! Don't put so much on her plate!"

Once again, my dad stopped dead in his tracks. He paused with the fourth or fifth portion of rice hanging over the plate. "Of course she's going to like it! You'll like it, won't you?"

Who could say no?

She did end up liking the rice and now proudly makes the side dish for her own family. I imagine that news brought a little tear to my rice-loving dad's eye.

Like a lot of my dad's quirks, I never knew that there are people in the world that didn't have rice more than one a month. It was such a normal part of my every day life that I thought not having rice with dinner was a special treat--like eating at a fancy restaurant or two scoops on your ice cream cone. It brings me a little comfort knowing that I'm now surrounded by people just like my father who are probably sitting down to a steaming plate of rice right this very minute.

Vicariously yours,

1 comment:

  1. I love rice now! Thanks Al I did not even know what I was missing!!!