by Donna Amis Davis / @DonnaAmisDavis

Mountains of Rice

Living and working in the Philippines for the last 30-plus years, I can’t help but think about RICE. I propose that the Filipino has a different relationship with rice than does the average non-Asian-heritage American.

Seven Clues About Filipinos and Rice:

I’ll share seven of the clues that led me to this conclusion. See if you agree with me.

Friendly Rice Stall Women

Clue Number One

My first clue about that came back when I was in college, and still living in the U.S. I was helping my Filipino-American friend cook in her parents’ kitchen. Looking for a garbage can to toss something into, I opened the pantry door, and saw a large plastic trashcan on the floor. “No,” said Marilyn, “that’s not it.” What was in that can? Rice. It was full of rice. I’d never seen so much rice in one place in my life. Marilyn’s family bought their rice in 50-pound sacks. OK, this family must like rice a lot, I thought. Clue Number One.

Clue Number Two

Then, during our first year in the Philippines, we lived in Lipa City, Batangas to study Tagalog. The husband of one of our Tagalog teachers owned a rice stall in the local market. A whole store-front devoted solely to selling rice? There is no equivalent in my home country. Clue Number Two.

So Many Varieties of Rice!

Clue Number Three

Filipinos eat rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And never get tired of it. Filipinos say they don’t feel like they’ve eaten until they have rice. At a kid’s birthday party, guests will be served fried chicken and spaghetti, but that is just considered a snack because there is no rice. Clue Number Three.

Clue Number Four

The local laws reflect the Filipinos’ reliance on rice as food. An employee can be compensated up to 1500 pesos a month tax-free for “rice allowance.” If you hire live-in domestic help, you are responsible for providing them all the rice that they need. Clue Number Four.

Rice Stall After Rice Stall

Clue Number Five

If you are a Filipino reading this, I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. But try to imagine my surprise, when I went back to a tiny town in Iowa, to help my mother in her last months, and couldn’t find any rice in the grocery store there! I looked and looked. Up one aisle and down another. I was looking for rice in a one or two-pound bag, as is commonly found in grocery stores in California. Nope. None. I finally asked a store employee for help. “Do you have any rice?”

“Sure, we do.” So he led me to an aisle I’d already searched, and pointed to the box of Uncle Ben’s. Um. I don’t consider that rice. Sorry. Apparently in Ida Grove, Iowa in the heartland of the United States, rice is not on the menu too much. Clue Number 5.

Clue Number Six

Raffle Prize is a Sack of Rice and a Cellphone!

This week I went to the local water district office to pay a disputed water bill. Banners on the front wall of the compound described various promotions the water district offered that month. There were raffle prizes listed for people who connected to the water district lines for the first time. There were raffle prizes for those who paid bills in arrears. And the biggest raffle prizes were for those who reconnected their lines to the water company. The prizes? A cell phone and a 50-kilo sack of rice. That’s Clue Number 6.

All You Can Eat Rice!

Clue Number Seven

And finally, what is Clue Number 7? A popular restaurant franchise advertises UNLIMITED RICE with their meals. Our visitors from the U.S. think that is funny. I guess they don’t see all-the-rice-you-can-eat as a huge selling point for some reason?

Now, you’ve heard it from me, Donna on Palawan, an American expat who’s been in the Philippines since 1981. I think Filipinos have a different relationship with rice than do non-Asian-heritage Americans. But I’m not a Filipino. So what does a Filipino say about the Philippines’ relationship with rice? Check out the link below. This guy calls Filipinos ‘Rice-ivores.’ Hey, he said it, not me.

See Mikey Bustos’ take on Filipinos and their rice: Filipino Dining Tutorial by Mikey Bustos.