A stereotype is very popular outside China. It says, “Chinese people can not live without rice.”
This stereotype is incorrect, because in fact, only people in southeast and northeast of China or in the eastern plains of China have the preference of eating rice. For people living in the northwest and southwest, they may eat rice as often as Europeans and North Americans – only a few times a month.
For the Chinese in the northwest, they prefer eating food made of flour, such as all kinds of noodles, cakes, steamed bread, Liangpi and so on.
However, for Chinese people who eat rice, they also have different tastes. This difference in diet between the north and the south exists in many kinds of Chinese food, even a bowl of simple rice.
To sum up in one sentence: Chinese in the south like to eat indica rice, while the Chinese in the north like to eat japonica rice.
Several different kinds of rice that Chinese people often eat
In areas where rice is not the main food, the differences between different kinds of rice may not be understood, so let’s briefly introduce several popular rice in China and how to eat them.
The two most mainstream rice types are indica and japonica rice mentioned above. Chinese people will cook these two kinds of rice directly, and then eat them together with different Chinese dishes.
In fact, these two kinds of rice are easily distinguished from each other in appearance. Indica rice is an elongated ellipsoid, while Japonica rice is close to a sphere.
In agriculture, the size of the refined japonica broken rice is less than 15%, while that of fine indica rice is no more than 30%; The protein content of indica rice is over 8%, while that of japonica rice is only 7%; The gel consistency of japonica rice is more than 70, and that of indica rice is only more than 60, so japonica rice is obviously much stickier than indica rice.
These data make these two kinds of rice have completely different flavors.
If you have tried to cook at home, you may find that sometimes even if you put the same amount of water and cook for the same time, the hardness of the rice is different. It is possible that the rice you bought is a different variety of rice.
The amylose and protein content of japonica rice is less than that of indica rice, and it is not as soft and delicious as indica rice. The gel consistency of indica rice is not enough and it is not sticky after cooking.
As far as cooking scene are concerned, Chinese prefer japonica rice when cooking rice and porridge, while Chinese prefer japonica rice when cooking fried rice. In addition, if you want to make Japanese sushi, you should also choose japonica rice, because Indica rice is difficult to kneading into rice balls.
Besides these two kinds of rice, Chinese people also grow and eat glutinous rice. The nutritional value of glutinous rice is much higher than that of japonica and indica rice, but eating too much glutinous rice can lead to indigestion problem.
Glutinous rice contains as much as 90% amylopectin, which means that when you cook it, it will become sticky. Chinese people do not usually eat glutinous rice for every meal like japonica rice or indica rice, but use it to make a variety of snacks and festival foods, such as Zongzi, Glutinous Rice Chicken, Cifangao, Eight Delicacies Rice, Rice Cakes and so on.
Glutinous rice is also divided into japonica rice and indica rice, but the overall taste is not different, they can be used to make sticky food.
The Food War between Rice
Although japonica rice and indica rice are the main food in China, people’s evaluation of them has changed several times in the past decades. Once upon a time, people who liked japonica rice looked down on those who liked indica rice. Later, people who ate indica rice looked down on those who ate japonica rice. Now everything has returned to the original state.
To understand why different kinds of rice cause this cultural phenomenon, we need to connect the planting sites of japonica and indica rice with the history of China in recent decades.
First of all, we need to understand that japonica rice and indica rice are grown in different areas in China. Japonica rice is mainly planted in the northern yield areas (Heilongjiang, Jilin, Liaoning province), while indica rice is mainly planted in the south (Jiangsu, Hunan, Hubei, Guangdong).
Although indica rice and japonica rice have their own taste and cooking methods, this regional planting method itself separates the preferences of Chinese people living in the south and north: the northern people like japonica rice, while the southern people like indica rice.
Before the reform and opening-up, the three northeastern provinces Heilongjiang, Jilin, Liaoning province, have been economically developed areas of the People’s Republic of China, and also the major grain producing areas in China.
Differences in agriculture also makes the two kinds of rice different: Northeast China is located in the high latitudes, where only one batch of rice can be harvested every year. As a result, land there is more fertile than that in the south.
This makes the average quality of japonica rice sold in China higher than that of indica rice. This makes the Chinese before the reform and opening up generally believe that the rice produced in Northeast China (japonica rice) is the best rice.
However, in the early stage of reform and opening up, this situation has undergone obvious changes.
On the one hand, the economy of the southeast coastal area is developing rapidly, and people here are the first to embrace private economy. A large number of southerners travel to all parts of China to do business, which makes their eating habits spread along with the population movement.
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On the other hand, fragrant rice from Southeast Asia, especially Thailand, has entered the Chinese market as an absolutely high-end product.
Before 1992, the supply of grain and oil in the People’s Republic of China was part of the planned economy, and local residents could only buy limited varieties of grain from state-run grain and oil stores by rationing. The system was abolished in 1992, and residents were able to buy food, including rice, from any store.
In the same year, Thai fragrant rice became the first batch of overseas cereals to enter the Chinese market. Although the price of fragrant rice in Thailand was very expensive for ordinary Chinese people at that time, it was this price that made it synonymous with “high-end rice”.
Thai fragrant rice is a well-known rice in the world. It has a very unique aroma. This aroma is not available in other rice. Besides fragrance, Thai fragrant rice is also a kind of indica rice, which has the oval appearance of indica rice.
When Thai fragrant rice defines the image of high-end rice, the status of indica rice in the eyes of Chinese consumers has also been improved. During the period from rice to 2010s, people who like to eat indica rice will despise those who eat japonica rice.
However, it is obvious that not all indica rice is as good as Thai fragrant rice. With the development of consumption level, people’s purchasing power generally increases. After everyone tasted rice from different regions, people began to fall in love with japonica rice again.
Now, even considering the dietary differences between the north and the south, Chinese consumers generally prefer japonica rice to indica rice.
What Kind of Rice Should be Recommended?
Unlike Japan and Thailand, China’s rice brand awareness is weak. There may be rice from different places or different kinds of rice from the same place in the same brand. People often distinguish the type and quality of rice by its producing area.
Therefore, buying Chinese rice mainly depends on the place of origin or variety, just like buying Chinese Longjing Green Tea. The word Longjing is a place name, not a brand. Here are some favorite rice producing areas for Chinese consumers.
Panjin rice is produced in Panjin City, which is located in the southwest of Liaoning Province, the center of Liaohe Delta.
There are four distinct seasons here, with rain and heat at the same time. Farmers raise crabs in rice fields to form an ecosystem, which makes Panjin rice soft and delicate.
Wuchang rice is produced in Wuchang City, which is located in the middle of Heilongjiang Province.
Wuchang rice is the imperial rice used by the royalty in the late Qing Dynasty, its grains are full, the texture is full, the color is clear and bright, the fragrance is rich, and it has more rice flavor. After cooking, there seems to be a layer of oil on the surface of the rice grain.
Liulin rice is produced in Liulin Village, Donggang City, Liaoning Province, which is close to the Yalu River and the Yellow Sea. Farmers use a mixture of fresh water from the Yalu River and salt water from the Yellow Sea to give Liulin rice a unique flavor.
Here, in addition to planting Chinese native varieties of japonica rice, but also grow Japanese varieties of japonica rice “Koshihikari”. The Koshihikari Rice produced here is one of the few rice that can compete with Japanese origin in quality.
Zengcheng silk rice
Zengcheng silk rice is a kind of indica rice, which is an excellent rice species derived from Zengcheng wild rice. Its rice grain is slender and shiny, so it is called silk rice. In the Qing Dynasty, it was regarded as the best rice variety at that time and was known as “Rice Jasper”.
Silk Rice is chewy, fragrant, and the grain is loose and dry. If you stirring cooked silk rice with soup water, you will see the rice ball spread out, and the soup is still crystal clear and uncloudy, which is the best choice for claypot rice.
The producing area of Wannian rice is Wannian County in the east of Jiangxi Province, which is the southeast bank of Poyang Lake.
Because of its long sunshine, abundant precipitation and long frost-free period, it is called “God’s place for rice production” by Dr. Richard Stockton MacNeish, an agricultural archaeologist.
Although it is located in southern China, and it is a kind of indica rice, the annual planting rule is enforced here, so it is very expensive.
Of course, in China, it is not just rice that is worth tasting. If you have the chance to travel to China, you will find that there are differences in rice in each area.
There is an old Chinese saying that “firewood, rice, oil, salt, sauce, vinegar and tea” is used to describe the most important consumer goods in the history of ordinary people in China for thousands of years, and rice ranks second. For many Chinese people, rice is one of the main courses of every meal, and people can even eat rice without any other dishes.
But to tell the difference between rice, even if only the difference between japonica rice and indica rice, you need to have a special love of rice, eating rice at least once a week. Of course, if you are still cooking rice in the BBC Food way, it doesn’t matter what kind of rice it is, because that cooking method destroys everything.