Rice – Day 39

Posted on April 12, 2012


Rice is a staple part of the Ugandan diet, it complements pretty much most meals and it’s filling enough to keep you going throughout the day. But the cost of rice is increasing, as well as other food items and every week I think Nancy will faint when she hears how much 2kg is going to cost.

Camp for the moment is relatively quiet considering how busy it’s been with researchers coming and going. At the moment the only mouths to feed are Geoffrey, Nancy and the eating-machine that is Herbert and myself. I swear I have never seen anyone put food away like young Herbert, who incredibly hasn’t gained a pound since being here. That boy has some metabolism. He could easily eat The Northerner and a friend of ours Mr Lardo under-the-table. And nothing goes to waste. He’ll eat leftovers for breakfast:  from pocho, to spaghetti or potatoes. I’ve told him, he won’t be slim forever and come mid-30’s he should expand, if he’s still shovelling it in at the same rate.

There are many ways to cook rice. For beginners there’s boil in the bag; then for the cheats or the time-pressed, there’s a rice cooker, some people even use a pressure cooker and then for the pros: either three parts water and one part rice (that’s how I was taught); or water that just covers the surface of the rice. However you cook it, the end result should be soft and fluffy but never mushy.

I’ve made egg fried rice for Nancy and Herbert with leftovers which had them doing cartwheels of joy. They’d never tasted it before and have vowed to cook it for themselves back in Kampala. So when our cook failed to come back to camp a few nights ago and there was just the three of us I decided to cook and no-one batted an eye-lid. I’ve made lunch for us before and never had any complaints. I really do enjoy cooking. I’m with a chef after all.

Nancy carefully sifted through the uncooked grains, picking out the stones, then she washed the rice and brought it to me. I had put a saucepan of water on to boil, the problem was when I cook rice I like to use a lot of water and drain off the contents. The pot was too small for the amount of rice we were cooking, something I lamented out loud.

Herbert sat watching us suspiciously at the back of the kitchen: “You know Asha, a good workman never blames his tools.”

“Do you want to eat tonight Herbert or go to bed hungry?” I responded without turning round from the stove.

The grains of rice we used, are half the size of Basmati. I’ve never seen rice this small. They began soaking up the water , I stirred gently and Nancy came to peer over my shoulder. After 15 minutes the rice was cooked, but because there was no colander, it took Nancy and myself to lift the saucepan, jam a plate over the pot and tip the boiling water out without losing our dinner. When the plate was lifted we saw that the rice remained very glutinous.

Disaster I thought, these kids are going to think I can’t cook. I was mortified.

“See I knew the pot was too small,” I cried out in dismay.

Not one to be defeated. We returned the wet rice to the stove to try to dry it out.

“Let me get a Caverrah (plastic bag). If we put it on top of the rice, and cover it, it will dry the water out quicker. We do this to pocho when we want to set it fast,” said Nancy.

At this point I was willing to try anything. Tonight’s rice was going to ruin my reputation as someone who could cook.

“Ok, let’s do it!” I turned the heat down, mindful not to burn the contents.

Nancy hunted through the cupboard. Nada. All she found were coloured plastic bags. I was not about to see the rice go from white to either black or green.

“Empty the sugar,” I said looking over my shoulder. Nancy tipped the sugar from a see-through bag into a jar and washed the bag thoroughly. She then split the bag down the middle and put it on top of the rice. I covered the pot with the lid. This had better work, I thought, biting my bottom lip.

“Now let us wait, maybe it will set like pocho (maize flour, like Polenta),” said Nancy seating herself at the dining table.

“Asha, are we going to have porridge with beans?” joked Herbert.

“Beggars can’t be choosers,” I retorted. But I feared Herbert may have a point, was this going to be the worst meal I’ve made? I’d never hear the end of it.

Fifteen minutes passed, it felt like an eternity. Nancy and I lifted the lid, removed the plastic bag and peered down to inspect the contents. As if by magic, the rice had been salvaged. I breathed a heavy sigh of relief.

“Thank God! Good thinking Nancy,” I said excitedly. Although not as fluffy and grainy like it should be, the contents were slightly sticky but not congealed and certainly nothing like porridge or pocho. I dished out the contents and sat back happy.

“It’s very nice,” said Nancy, chewing thoughtfully. “It reminds me of how they cook rice in the village.”

I wondered if that was a compliment. Young Herbert launched into his dinner, happy to fed.

“At what time did we start cooking it?” she said.

I looked at my watch, my eyes widened “Ahem……an hour ago.”

“Oh my God, it’s taken us an hour to cook rice!” said Nancy.

We all burst out laughing.

I thought, “Christ that has to be a record. What on-earth would the Northern say?!”