Rice in Indian Food
Rice is one of the leading food crops in the world; together with wheat and maize, they provide more than 50% of all calories consumed by the world’s population. Rice is also a staple in Indian cuisine. While it is true that northern Indians tend to eat more flatbreads, while southern Indians have a more rice-based diet, this ingredient is still a very important part of Indian meals in general.
Brief History of Rice
The cultivation and consumption of rice date back many thousands of years, as it has been documented in history as far back as 2,500 BC. The Asian rice plant (oryza sativa) has been growing in Asia for at least 5,000 years and, while it first appeared in the North East of India, it has now spread to the entire subcontinent after being domesticated over 4,000 years ago.
Rice grows in India from 8 to 25o N latitude, and from sea level to around 2,500m altitude. The optimal temperature is around 24oC.
The Indian subcontinent is amongst the world’s largest producers of rice and, together with China, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Vietnam and Thailand, they account for more than three-quarters of the entire world’s production. India alone is responsible for 20%! Rice has important cultural and culinary connotations, as what Indian men and women eat depends on region and religion.
Types of Rice
There isn’t just one variety of rice. On the contrary, it is believed that more than 40,000 types exist, as researchers continue to improve its features (such as flavour and disease resistance). Here are only some of the most popular:
- Basmati – one of the most famous varieties and highly recommended in Indian cuisine. The grain is long, slender and non-sticky, and has a delicate fragrance and a flavour that is similar to nuts.
- Patna – this is a specific variety of rice that grows in the Ganges plains and, while it is related to basmati, it is not as fragrant or long.
- Ponni – commonly used to make idlis, a savoury cake made from a batter of fermented black lentils and rice. It contains less starch when compared to other varieties.
Famous Indian Dishes with Rice
Rice is not just a side dish or accompaniment in Indian cuisine, but it is also used in several Indian recipes. Apart from idli, rice feature prominently in dishes like bisi bele bhaath (hot lentil rice), venn Pongal (usually served as breakfast), and neer dosa (crepe with rice batter).
There are countless many other recipes with rice, so we couldn’t possibly name them all!