In an advertisement aired during the PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games early this year, Eric Regan, the Canadian-born member of the Korean National Ice Hockey Team who was naturalized as a Korean citizen, said, “For Koreans, rice is power!” But it’s not just Koreans who are fueled by rice. The grain isn’t found just on the dining tables of Korea and East Asia but goes much farther around the global village. Rice plays leading and supporting roles in the culinary cultures of many countries. Whether the centerpiece of the meal or a well-loved side, let’s explore some popular rice dishes from around the world.
There are many variations in the rice dishes of Korea. It can be served as fried rice (bokkeumbap), mixed rice (bibimbap), or rice with toppings (deopbap). It can be cooked on heated flattop grills or in stone pots, too. Thinking about similar foreign dishes, the Italian risotto comes to mind first. The name “risotto” means “easy-to-make rice dish.” To make risotto, rice is fried in butter, stock is poured in gradually, and a variety of vegetables, seafood, or meat is added. It may look like porridge, but it will beat any other Italian dish in proving the power of rice.
Similar to the Italian risotto is paella, a traditional dish in Spain and popular in many Latin American countries. Paella is different from risotto in that it is drier, with the rice cooked in a wide, shallow metal pan. Originating from Valencia, Spain, paella spread to Central and South American countries and is well-liked everywhere. Common ingredients are shrimp, squid, mussels, and other seafood. As paella is cooked on a big, broad pan, some restaurants do not take orders for single portions.
When we talk about rice dishes, we cannot forget about pilaf. The origin of pilaf is unclear, but it is widely believed to come from the Turkish pilav, which is said to have made its way from India a long time ago. It would be fair to say that pilaf is the “global staple” that connects vastly different places around the world. To make pilaf, rice is cooked and boiled in seasoned broth with the addition of meat and vegetables. It enjoys great popularity throughout Central Asia and East Europe.
In Africa, the representative rice dish is Jollof rice. Jollof rice is made by cooking meat, tomatoes, onions, and chilies in big saucepan. In places where rice is hard to come by, Jollof rice is served only on special occasions or at formal events.
Looking at rice dishes all around the world, it’s clear that that rice is the source of energy-sustaining life, based in the warm hearts that link people to people. Served with warmth and love, there’s no food that nourishes quite like rice.
Written by Kim Daniel
Illustrated by Jeong Hyoju