Who: Hoàng Thị Thẩm and Nguyễn Đình Đạt
Where: Bac Ninh Province, Vietnam
Rice doesn't have the most exciting of reputations. It's often thought of as filler, a background food to hold up dishes with more flavor — but rice has a few secrets you might not know.
1. Rice goes bad.
Maybe you already know this, but not having eaten rice two or three times a day for my whole life, I didn't know that rolling up the end of a bag of rice and clipping it shut wasn't good enough. Rice goes bad after four months to a year, depending on the variety and humidity it's stored in. Old rice is not going to hurt you, but the taste won't be as good, according to Dat. Any rice that's not good enough, he feeds to his animals.
2. Rice can kill you.
OK, maybe that's a bit melodramatic, but raw, uncooked rice does carry bacteria spores that can cause food poisoning. The spores can survive cooking, but they won't hurt you unless they're given a chance to grow into bacteria. This happens when the rice is left at room temperature after it's cooked, so storing leftover rice is where the risk lies. To avoid food poisoning, just cook as much rice as you'll eat, or cool the rice quickly in the fridge and reheat it to steaming hot.
3. People make art out of rice fields.
Rice paddies create beautiful, terraced landscapes on mountainsides, and on flat land they make natural checkerboards of greens and golds. But some farmers in Japan have taken rice art one step further and now plant varieties of rice that mature to different colors to outline rice Mona Lisa, Napoleon (above) and even spell out words. It's hardly an ancient traditional art form — the practice started as a small town's civic revitalization project in 1993 — but it's attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors to the town of Inakadate and has inspired rice paddy art across Japan.
4. The rice you eat may be a mix of different varieties.
All long-grain white rice is not created equally. Some rice is stickier, slimier, or sweeter smelling when it's cooked, and it takes a pro to know the difference. Dat mixes the three kinds of rice he grows to get the optimum blend: a variety that tastes best after aging for two to three months, an aromatic variety that's particularly tasty and holds its freshness well, and a variety that's great right off the plant. Along with long-grain rice, wild rice — which is actually a grass — is often a blend of varieties.
5. You should rinse your rice.
When you rinse rice, you wash away broken bits of rice and starch from the surface of the rice. The result is a fluffier pot of rice that doesn't clump together as much. If you're cooking something sticky, like risotto or sushi rice, you can skip this step. Rinsing is not necessary, and the change to nutrition is minimal, but it'll freshen up your plain white rice if you do it.
6. Steamed rice isn't actually steamed.
Think about it. Rice cooks more like pasta than anything, and pasta is definitely boiled! According to Vietnamese cooking authority Andrea Nguyen, some varieties, like sticky rice, are cooked by steaming, but it's a misnomer for simple cooked white rice. The next time you see "steamed rice" in a Chinese takeout menu, call them and correct them. I'm sure they'll appreciate it.