I didn't always love white rice. Raised on my Southern grandmother's cooking, I grew up thinking of rice as an "instant" food — something Grandmother Maye dumped on the plate next to my pork chop on those nights when she didn't have time to make mashed potatoes. White rice constituted a cheap, bland filler, made interesting only once or twice a year, when Maye indulged her Cajun roots and dished it up with chicken gumbo.
But my feelings changed during the year I spent in Hyderabad, India, where rice is so essential to daily life that friends greet each other with the question, "Have you had your rice today?" There I discovered that white rice can be prepared dozens of ways and paired with hundreds of accompaniments — and that eating rice, simple and unadorned, can keep you alive through emotional or physical illness.