Do You Need Rice to Make It a Meal?

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

I grew up in a household with a Thai father and an American mother who had grown up in Asia, so most nights, dinner started with opening up the lid of the rice cooker to reveal a steaming pot of fresh rice. Even my mother’s most solidly American casseroles were served with a side of white jasmine rice. Rice was the center of the plate. Rice made it a meal.

So I understood John Birdsall’s recent piece for CHOW about “America’s growing rice hegemony,” and the divide between those who see rice as an essential part of a meal and those who don’t. Which side are you on?

Birdsall’s observations come from his 20-year relationship with his husband Perry, who is Filipino-American and sees rice as an essential part of every meal. He has opened up Birdsall’s eyes to a secret world of eaters who understand these rice cravings.

At the restaurant St. Johnin London recently, we were just finishing a lovely late lunch of braised beef cheek and fried pork trotters. As we got ready to leave, we noticed that the staff meal was being served at a long table: family-style bowls of the beef cheeks, along with liter bottles of Coke and a couple of big platters of steamed, Asian-style rice, which wasn’t on the menu.

“See?” Perry said. “I knew we should have asked for rice. I told you that’s what the food needed.” He was right. He always is.

It is hard to put into words, the comfort I find in a pot of hot rice, the security I feel when there is a container of leftover rice in the fridge. Unlike Perry, I don’t crave it every day, but I always feel better when it’s there, soaking up sauces, sitting at the center of the plate, making it a meal.

Read more: As American as Steamed Rice at CHOW

How about you? Is rice an essential part of your plate?