I wanted the title to be a pun, but a-rice-ing a pun was too difficult for me. Too bad…
Have you been to Nepal? If yes, then you certainly know about Dal and Bhat. You might have had also tasted it! Well, today I will tell about the cultural aspects that Rice holds in Nepal.
First, let’s see the science bit. Rice is the seed of species Oryza Sativa. It is a cereal grain, which is consumed rather widely around the world. It requires a lot of water to grow, hence you usually see paddy fields near sources of water of in the rainy season. It is full of carbohydrates and there are usually two types of rice you can buy in the market; the white variety and the brown variety.
So, how do you say Rice in Nepali? There are actually three ways, depending on where it is. What? Three ways to say rice? Now isn’t that remarkable? So:
If the rice is in the bag (Uncooked Rice) = चामल (chamal)
If the rice is cooked (Cooked Rice) = भात (bhat)
If the rice is on the field (Paddy) = धान (dhaan)
So, you say ‘चामल भिजाऊ’ (chamal bijhau) if you meant ’Soak the Rice’ but you say ‘भात खाने ?’ (bhat khane) if you meant ‘Want to eat rice?’.
So, that green image you see is Paddy. We call it ‘धान’ (dhaan). Do you know when is paddy grown? It is grown around June…there is even a festival commemorating this! On that day, we eat दही चिउरा (dahi chiura) which is basically Beaten Rice (chiura) and Yogurt (dahi). June coincides with arrival of Rainy Season, so you know why it is grown on this month.
Dhaan fully grows after 6 months? I am not sure, I am no botanist or a farmer, but the harvest season is somewhere around Autumn.
Okay, so this dhaan is processed and then it turns into chamal, which is cooked into bhat. Not much confusing to remember, right?
TYPES OF RICE
There are actually many varieties (subspecies) of Rice! The pinnacle of this is a type of rice called ’Basmati’ (बास्मती). Basmati is very fragrant and is very soft and delicious to eat. The word बास्मती (basmati) itself stems from ‘बास्ना’ which means ‘fragrance’. However, basmati is not much useful for making Beaten Rice; Basmati Rice is solely for impressing your guests or for eating like normally cooked rice. That is because Basmati is very expensive! Basmati is also known as ‘kalo-nunia’ because its seedpods when it is a paddy is ’Black’. Kalo nunia literally means ’Black Rice’.
Then there is the long-grain type and the short-grain type rice. Long-grain type of rice tends to be more expensive and looks more palatable.
BEATEN RICE (chiura):
So, there is also another important type of rice, called ’Taichin’ (ताइचिन) which is pretty horrible for eating like Basmati but the most excellent choice for making sel-rotis, Beaten Rice etc. In fact, beaten rice and Sel-Rotis made from Taichin tastes the best. Oh, and Rice flour made from Taichin smells so good! I might even sell it as crack with no one finding out! (just joking)
And of course, there are other various types of rice, some trademarks, like Aarati, Jeera Masino, Pokhreli, Mansuli etc.
Nepali People do not consume Sticky Rice.
SOME VARIETIES OF RICE PRODUCTS
Other than steamed rice, Selroti and Beaten Rice, one can make a lot of Dishes with Rice. Okay, so some of these products are:
मुराइ (murai) = Toasted Rice
जाउलो (jaulo) = Something like Masala Porridge … mothers make you eat this when you are ill and it tastes so bland, I swear no one likes this!
खीर (khir) = A kind of Porridge which is slow-cooked in Milk, Sugar and Spices like Cardamom…it smells good and many people LOVE it but I am no fan of khir…
An average Nepali person whose household consumes rice consumes about 100 grams of Rice of everyday. I calculated that, if this continued, by the age of 30, one would have eaten a ton of rice, literally. Here is the maths:
In one day, one consumes an average 100 grams of rice
There are 10,957 days in 30 years and assuming one did NOT eat rice at all for 957 days in that period.
100 grams x 10,000 days = 1,000,000 grams
1,000,000 grams = 1,000 kilograms
Since 1,000 kilograms make one (metric) ton….
1,000,000 grams = 1 (metric) ton
Hence, a person by the age of 30 would have eaten a ton of rice, literally.
Rice is measured in special system of measurement, which we call ‘ट्वाक’ (twaak). 1 twaak is roughly about one Cup… Perhaps 120 grams? I don’t know, I have never measured it….
CULTURAL SIGNIFICANCE AND INFLUENCE OF RICE
Rice has a significant presence in all corners of Nepalese Society. Rice is consumed by young and old alike. While some communities might not consume it as much, as a Nepali, an adult would have had consumed it at least once in their lifetime. Some may not like it but of course, Rice is a staple in Nepal. Foreigners do not seem to DIGEST this thing of course, like one username of someone who was learning Nepali was ’deathbydalbhat’.
People do not just eat Rice ONLY. There is usually lentils and vegetables, sometimes meat and pickles. Together, they make ‘थाली’ (thali). As a part of culture, it is customary to feed a six-month old child Rice in a ceremony called ‘पास्नी’ (paasni).
Rice has influenced a lot of quotes and conversation-starters. Apart from the famous चिया खायौ (chiya khayau /have you drank your tea/), people also start the conversation by saying भात पाक्यो (bhat paakyo /has rice been cooked/) and भात खायौ (bhat khayau /have you eaten rice/). भात खायौ (bhat khayau) literally means ’Have you eaten rice?’ but is usually meant as ’Have you taken Lunch?’
Of course, people also have different ways of referring to rice. Some say ’maam ham’, others might say ‘bhuja khayau’ but they all mean the same. ‘माम’ (maam) is the baby word for bhat whereas भुजा (bhuja) is used in Kathmandu a lot. Rice is eaten two times a day.
Sometimes my parents wonder why we eat rice so much! However, when we do eat something else for that night, a common complainant is this: bhat nakhada pet nai bhareko jasto lagdaina…
Which means ’When we don’t eat rice, It feels as if our stomach is not filled at all.’