In which I get coerced in the Asian market
Every week or two, I visit a gigantic, fun, confusing grocery called Lee Lee Market. Ostensibly, it’s an Asian market, meaning all of Asia, as they have aisles for Japan, Korea, China, Thailand and more. Additionally, they have food from Africa, Mexico, Spain, South America, the Middle East (which I guess is technically Asia) and… Holland. Why Holland? I don’t know. But, there’s an entire half-aisle of foodstuffs with labels in Dutch.
I don’t go for the Dutch food; I get things like fresh veggies (there are about 10 different varieties of bok choy), gluten-free rice snacks from Japan, and garbanzo flour — I have officially graduated to the ten pound sacks! I also buy lamb at Lee Lee. Though it’s frozen, Lee Lee has the best prices and selection of lamb that I’ve found, including thinly sliced boneless leg roasts, which we call Lamb-Umms. Most recently, I went to Lee Lee for rice.
Last time I went to Lee Lee, I had looked for plain white long grain rice, and oddly enough, I couldn’t find it. I found all sorts of OTHER rice, but not your regular run-of-the-mill white. (For the record, our family is split between white rice and brown rice lovers. I’m in the brown rice camp, but I’ll still serve white rice to delight those who like it. However, I’m still on the total elimination diet with Fiala, and she and I get to eat none of it.) While I shopped in vain, I kept thinking, “C’mon! It’s an ASIAN market. Why don’t they have plain rice???”
This most recent trip, I figured out my error. I was looking amongst the normal aisles of food. Rice is in a corner towards the front of the store, in the BULK FOODS section. Ten, twenty, fifty pound sacks of all sorts of varieties of rice. Rice, rice, and more rice.
So, there I stood, contemplating the dizzying array, trying to compare prices (I was a bit baffled by the price signs, which didn’t seem to match the selection very well). I gravitated towards a 10 lb bag of basmati rice in a lovely burlap sack. However, being that it was in burlap and the writing was mostly not in English, I couldn’t figure out if it was brown rice or white. I saw a little tag added with cooking directions, probably for the benefit of Americans. I thought, “OK. If the directions say ‘cook for 45 minutes’ it’s probably brown. Ten-twelve minutes, it’ll be white.”
As I set about my investigation, a short older lady sidled up to me. Helpfully, she asked, “Do you know how to cook rice?”
I insisted that I did, and explained my situation, asking her if she knew if it was white or brown.
“Oh, it’s white rice. You’re looking to buy rice, then?”
Yes, I certainly was.
She gently grabbed my arm and steered me further down the piles of sacks. “Then this is the rice you want.” She lovingly laid her hand on a dayglo orange bag of rice. I saw the word “parboiled” on the label. Out of politeness, I inspected the bag, but I was doubtful.
I turned to her husband, who lingered nearby, “You like this rice, too?”
“Oh, yes. We drive here all the time, just for this rice. My wife won’t buy any other kind.”
Peering at the image on the front of the bag, I asked, still unsure, “Is the rice yellow, like in the picture?”
“Yes. Well, no. More like golden. Well, more like off-white. The grain is yellow, maybe ivory-colored, but it cooks up off-white.”
I was not convinced. I had been holding a bag, but set it down again. She looked disappointed.
Sweetly, the lady continued, in a confiding tone, “We’re from Afghanistan. We eat rice with every meal. If you serve a meal to someone from Afghanistan, and there is no rice, they will ask you, ‘Where is the rice?’ When you make this rice, you will know by the aroma. You will make it, and the aroma will rise into the air, and your family will be drawn into the kitchen and say, ‘Oh, that aroma…’ When it is cooking, you will know that it is good rice. The right rice.”
Who could argue with that??? 😀
With a last longing glance at the handsome burlap sack, I hefted the 10 lb orange, zipper-topped sack into my cart, thanking her for her advice. “Upon your recommendation, I will try it.”
“Oh, your family will love it. I am sure,” she smiled.
I perused the overhead labels; I didn’t want to buy a $30 bag of rice. As best as I could tell, it was about $12. That’ll do.
The label has various words in English: Royal King Sella Parboiled Basmati. In searching fruitlessly for a picture, I’ve found that “sella” refers to golden rice. It is not quite golden, but it is off-white.
I’m not sure where the “parboiled” part comes in. To me, parboiled means Minute Rice — previously cooked, then dehydrated, leaving rough, bent rice grains which then re-“cook” in the few minutes that it takes the grains to re-soak-up the water. The rice from Lee Lee has directions that say, basically, to soak it for two hours (I didn’t), then add water and cook for 12-15 minutes. Sounds like normal rice to me. It’s definitely not parboiled. Maybe something was lost in translation.
The verdict? Everyone thought it was dreamy-wonderful. Everyone except for Audrey. Like only a 3yo can, she asked, without even trying it, “Why does this rice smell weird? I don’t like it.” She did finally eat it, somewhat begrudgingly. Everyone else scarfed it down and had seconds.
And I have had a warm feeling in my heart for the last 48 hours or so, from being coerced by a sweet Afghan grandmother into buying rice that I likely wouldn’t have, otherwise.