OUR KIWI SUPERVISOR and YLB have a running joke, and on the surface it’s hilarious, but deep down we know it’s driving him crazy.
To make a short story shorter, it proceeds thus: As soon as the shift starts, we greet each other, and he asks me: “Oi Noel (he pronounces it NOWL ), what’ve you got for lunch today? Hmm… don’t tell me, let me guess… iz it by any chance RICE???” Whereupon we dutifully show him our lunch, which is usually rice and anything else. We know it’s driving him mental because he sometimes sez don’t you eat anything else, and on rarer occasions he sez I am ordering you to bring pasta, bread or ANYTHING other than rice tomorrow for lunch OK? We smile, politely nod our head and comply, knowing that (1) he can’t do anything about it and (2) by tomorrow will have forgotten what he asked us to bring.
Which in a nutshell summarizes the mystification among non-Asians, regarding the fact that we are rice eaters first second and last. Another supervisor was astounded that we demolished with our flatmate a 50-kg bag of rice within 3 weeks, not knowing that if our other flatmates (a couple who hosts relatives regularly) had their own bag of rice, it would disappear even sooner.
The truth is, and not that we would disabuse our workmates of their “urban legend”, Asians like Pinoys and Chinese will eat anything that’s edible, the famine gene and slave mentality having been ingrained (pun intended) in our DNA for countless generations and then some. It’s our deep-down held belief, but among different demographics, we are probably the ones who can pad on fat and blubber at a moment’s notice ASAP, in preparation for seven years of famine, and having to scrape and scratch the bottom of the barrel. But this topic du jour, as our fave kabatch PeggyPatches1 likes to say, is for another day.
We eat rice with anything. Rice with stew, rice with fried fish, rice with bagoong, even rice with patis or rice with noodles… We are such a carbohydrate-rich diet-hugging person that on a merienda buffet, we can pile on one plate rice, noodles, other forms of pasta, and bread and eat in in the same sitting. No one around to remind us that all these are derived from cereals and grains, and frankly we don’t care. (here’s a factoid that most of us know: carbo-loading, thought by runners to be their exclusive domain, is a daily routine for most Asian youths, and it’s a habit we carry over well into our adulthood).
We’ve tried it on the Timbangan ng Bayan (public market scales) and it’s undeniable as the crack of dawn every morn : we can’t go through a regular meal without eating at least 200 grams of rice, doesn’t matter what the ulam / viand / dish is just give us our bagong lutong kanin and we’ll take it over any hoity-toity gourmet / gastronomic delight. Next to our flatmate though, our diet seems positively anorexic : he can’t call it a meal without eating more or less 400 grams, or double what we gobble up.
On the 3rd floor dining hall in Hogwarts circa 1970s, Lunch Boarders United (the amorphous group of lunchers who weren’t lucky enough to bring their own food to school) will remember the rare day when Pork Barbecue was served. Since rice was unlimited (sorta like Tokyo Tokyo) we, along with our Sec A comrades would somehow be able to consume three, countem THREE cups of rice with one puny stick of skewered burnt marinated pork, using a ratio of one tiny morsel of ulam with 4-5 tablespoons of rice. Lamon na yan ginagawa mo NOel.
But when you’re at an age when you can eat everything and anything and not even feel it within an hour, a lunch like that means NOTHING as long as you’re hyperactive and peripatetic, an unstoppable spinning top from morning bell to dismissal.
Without even confirming it, we are almost certain that the Asian diet is the reverse of others in terms of protein carbohydrates distribution, meaning while other peoples take in slightly more meats and dairys than carbos, we often stuff ourselves with more “energy food” than anything else, partly because we’re more energetic, but also because of economics and our eating habits from early in life.
This of course is double-edged. Because carbos are broken down by the body more easily than other food groups, we can eat and eat and lose it faster. But after a certain age, when our physical activity decreases dramatically, we gain weight at a massive and alarming rate, and unless we alter the way we heat radically, we face an uphill battle against weight gain. We often compromise, because surrender is unthinkable.
To digress: when we reached college, in one of the dorms on campus, it was a similar theme of stuff-yourself-with-rice-to-extend-the-ulam-taste, and while we thought we were certified gluttons, our schoolmates were worse: FIVE plates of rice with one tiny ulam, which meant around 5-6 tablespoons of steaming hot rice (free) with microscopic menudo, shrinking sinigang and invisible adobo, you would NOT believe how far a single ulam would go. A daily, repetitive application of the catchphrase sabaw pa lang ulam na was the reality for most of our schoolmates, and we not only embraced it whenever we were in the said dorm (if you wanted to disappear in campus, that was the place to go, it was a black hole even campus police hesitated to visit, with all the frats, fringe groups and assorted back-alley types living there, but for us it was a great tambayan) , we learned to like it.
The only thing that reins us in these days is the fact that our body can’t hold as much excess food as it used to, that we’re no longer as active as we used to be, and that we have to start wondering about the continuous wear-and-tear / occupational hazard we’ve imposed on our alimentary canals, muscular / skeletal systems all these years… Ah, youth is wasted on the young and truly, sa huli ang pagsisisi.
Thanks for the memories, everyone.