Biryani from Tantra’s India’s Oven – Grappling with my Identity Crisis

tantra's india's oven, los angeles, ca - biryani
I don’t like rice

I may even go so far as to say that I hate rice. “Hate,” they say, is a very strong word. Hm. Perhaps, then, I need to say “absolutely fucking detest” to express how I really feel about rice.

I am not allergic to rice. Neither do I find that rice tastes bad, since plain rice doesn’t taste like anything. Nor do I have an Atkins-curated vanity that quivers in fear of carbs. Quite the opposite, actually. I could live on bread, pasta, potatoes, and good old plain white, refined sugar. I love carbs, just not in the form of rice. If, perchance, some semi-rare alignment of the remaining planets rained down cosmic fallout that caused DNA mutations in grains that left them susceptible to a crop-devastating plague of aphids, leaving every field on Earth of every grain from amaranth to teff completely barren, every field an utter wasteland…except for rice paddies because of some supernatural aphid-resistant property in rice, I wouldn’t give in. I would just be one hell of a skinny bitch with very bad protein-breath.

There does not appear to be any reasonable explanation for why I don’t like rice. It makes no sense because I’m Asian, right? Don’t all Asian love rice? So much that they could eat it plain out of a bowl? Do they not eat it at every meal, including dessert? If you’re Asian, you gotta love rice, right!??!

Right.

I hate rice because rice is so totally the essence of Asian.

*blink* Huh?!?!

Yeah, you read me. I don’t like rice because it is Asian.

Yes, I know I am Asian; you don’t have to point out the fact that I am Asian because I am made painfully aware of the reality of my Asian-ness every time I look in the mirror and see that heavy makeup, lowlights, highlights, Mystic tanning, self-tanning, tan-bedding, tattooes, and lots of yes-I-have-to-be-sedated-for-it surgery have been nothing but green fees for two rounds at Pebble Beach for Dr. 90210.

I am Asian.

And I have a very hard time with “being Asian.” In case you hadn’t noticed, I have not yet grown out of that adolescent phase wherein I hate everything about myself, including ethnicity, which is probably the worst one. Growing up in Texas, and then in the Wonder White Midwest, I could not help but associate “Asian” with negative exfluences. Being Asian meant that I was 1) very different during a time, childhood and adolescence, when being “different” was not yet associated with Priuses, MINI coopers, and sleek white, apple-emblazoned techno-“cool,” but being “different” was the same as being “dorky,” especially since I was, in an act of utter dorkdom for which I should probably sue my parents now for the scarring, sent to UTSA computer camp in 3rd grade and learned BASIC on the Apple IIe, which brings me to 2) pigeon-holed into being and doing “Asian-y” things from which I am only now beginning to escape, like computers, science, and math.

Look people, I am not good at math. I can do simple multiplication, 2+2 is 4, but that’s about it, okay?

Without going into a whole hell of a lot of gruesome detail about the ins and outs of being Asian in a very non-Asian America, I will simply say that I did everything I could to eschew “Asian” just so I could be like everybody else, even though in the end, none of those things seemed to have worked. It is difficult to understand if you are not Asian. It is difficult to understand if you grew up anywhere but metropolitan Los Angeles where, no matter what ethnicity you are, at least you understand because you come into contact with Asians every day. I said “grew up in metropolitan Los Angeles,” not “Southern California,” because places like, oh, I don’t know, Apple Valley, which are still considered Southern California, have about three Asians total, and that’s only on the weekends when they commute in from LA to pick up the week’s profits from their dry cleaners.

*ouch* I had to. Sorry.

But I guess that even if you aren’t Asian, you do understand. If you were ever a teenager who just didn’t “fit in” with everyone else around you, you know the feeling. It’s that feeling, multiplied by a nice round number like 1,000, since I can’t do math.

One would think that I would have grown out of such nonsense. I am (supposedly) an adult and more “mature” now. Yet, this whole Asian-self-hatred is still with me, albeit to a much lesser degree, because I brainwashed myself. Brainwashing is pretty hard to undo, and I am still going through this process of undoing all those horrible years of indoctrinating myself with ideas of who I should be. I looked everywhere else outside of myself, and never once looked inside at who I truly was. I am about to get all deep on your delicious asses right now, so be forewarned.

I think that blogging is helping me to explore those things that I tried so hard to repress, like embracing my ethnicity. I am learning the history of my Mother Country. I am really trying to understand my heritage, the culture, and the cuisine. I am learning to appreciate those foods I used to hate because they embarrassed me because they were different. Sticky rice instead of mashed potatoes, goh-choo-jahng instead of ketchup, dduk instead of cookies. They represented part of my that I wanted to erase.

I am finding myself.

And you know what? I think I am finding that I am Indian.

I still can’t order Yang Chow Fried Rice, but I love biryani.

** a year ago today, dr. seuss eats eggs on toast **

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  • Anonymous

    Where are those beautiful pink lips? That’s what I want to eat!

  • sarah

    anonymous: if you’re talking about the lips on the profile photo – those lips are in west la la land. :)

  • KT

    I did not like rice until I tried it with citrus soy sauce. Mmm. I have never been able to find the citrus soy in L.A. but ponzu is pretty much the same.

    Then I had a broiled rice ball at Terried and I finally discovered how rice was REALLY meant to be eaten.

  • Xericx

    I’m asian too and I don’t eat rice too often….only when I go to asian restaurants or eat at relatives house….i always cook random stuff like sandwhiches at home.

    I like Biryani…good stuff…..

  • Neil

    Are you crazy, Sarah. I love those lips… uh, I mean rice.

  • Eve

    Indian? Babe, I thought you were Jewish! M.O.T., woot woot!!! (member of the “tribe” of course) ;)

  • onetomato

    glad to hear you’re trying to find your true asian self. by the way, sometimes when i crave a “korean experience,” i watch this show, wed 10:50pm on channel 18. it’s a goofy korean cooking show but it always makes me drool.

  • sarah

    kt: so funny, all the way up through college, i used to eat rice mixed with gobs of melted butter and soy sauce!

    xericx: i think basically it works the opposite for “white folk” who didn’t grow up with rice but were forced to eat Wonder White. a lot of my friends LOVE rice now, and think bread is boring.

    neil: how perfect! you can have ALL MY RICE when we meet and eat ;)

    eve: omg, i am so an indian jew. and i am absolutely em-oh-tee, all the way :)

    onetomato: so funny! why do i hear about this show all the time? i guess i will have to watch it, especially since it is so conveniently on right after project runway!

  • FoodZealot

    Okay, so at least you’re South Asian…

  • Anonymous

    i can relate: im chinese, and i remember as a kid saying “i hate rice, i want spaghetti!”.
    now im like: “white people really dont know how to enjoy food!”

    -modernist

  • sarah

    food zealot: seriously. i really think i am south asian. except that my skin is so pale it’s practically transparent.

    modernist: haha! just what about j gold?!?! that man knows how to eat, and i’m pretty sure he’s not asian.

  • hermz

    Apple IIe?!? Lucky! I was stuck doing BASIC on the II+ :/

  • sarah

    hermz: man, you were behind. sorry.

  • Anna John

  • Anonymous

    that looks delicious! You can always make rice more appealing and appetizing with a little spices and meat/ fish/ tofu

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