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Rice and Eggs are Hard to Beat

Bob Morrissey

This is about rice and eggs, two words that are simple to spell, almost impossible to mispronounce, and yet so fascinating because of their long history.

If you’ve read this far, it’s only fair to stress that this isn’t just about “clicks.”

Rice is a food staple for 3.5 billion people around the world, particularly in Asia, Latin America, and Chow’s restaurant in Dorval.

But rice is so much more. People have been eating rice since 2500 BC. Rice is grown in every continent except Antarctica. Sticky rice mortar was used on sections of the Great Wall of China. Some rice can be stored for up to 30 years. And Honda and Toyota are named after rice.

So it’s no wonder I’ve been fascinated with rice for over half a century, a fact I was reminded of last week when I ordered chicken from the Chalet BBQ.

“Breast, please,” I said to the elderly lady over the phone.

“With fries?”

“Um … I’m tired of fries. What else do you have?”

“We have baked and mashed potatoes, and brown rice.”

“Rice sounds good.”

What a mistake! An hour later, I was slumped over my kitchen table, too weak to fetch the Bromo-Seltzer. We’re talking Oprah Winfrey-type heartburn and indigestion; the kind accompanied by burping, belching, and bloating — and those are the good things.

That’s the problem with rice — you have to eat it with caution, and that calls for tough decisions. For example, do I chew rice or swallow it whole? I’ve tried both, without success. How long should you wait between swallows? What about fizzy drinks? Do they help? And how much gastric distress is blamed on rice when the real culprit is the accompanying greasy egg roll?

For these and other answers, I turned to Internet Mary. Last time Mary and I dined out, she got violently ill — but that was only because I was eating with my mouth open. All’s forgiven, and now Mary’s happy to help me with my rice problem.

She writes: “My theory is that it is a bacterial growth that feeds on rice and irritates the stomach’s GERD. It happens with white and not necessarily with whole-grain or rice that is difficult to digest or break down.”

Then she reminisces: “For me, I think it started from habitually eating leftover rice — maybe because the bacteria has a chance to multiply, but not enough to make one sick from food poisoning.” Mary ends with: “I stopped eating rice and started on a good probiotic and my GERD symptoms have completely disappeared.”

Thanks, Mary, for the tips. But from now on, I think I’ll just order the fries.

See, that’s the problem. I swear off rice, but then I always go back. It must be ingrained.

Now on to the egg, but first some history (thank you, Google).

People have been eating eggs for six million years. They began eating them raw from the nests of wild birds. Reports from Egypt and China in 1400 BCE indicate egg consumption dated back to the Neolithic Age. And for Jeopardy! freaks, humans began boiling eggs with the invention of pottery.

It’s not inconceivable that soldiers fighting in the Civil War started their day frying eggs at their campsite.

Imagine the conversation:

Weary soldier to fellow officer: “Where to next? Gettysburg?”

Officer: “Yup.”

“How far away is that?”

“Oh, about half a mile. We should be there in about two weeks.”

Weary soldier: “How’s the egg supply?”

Officer: “Grant says we’re good.”

Or Abraham Lincoln and his wife, Mary.

Mary: “Abe! Come! Your eggs are on the wicker table getting cold.”

Abe: “Hush, my sweet. I’m on the toilet chair with the chamber pot.” Then quietly to himself: “Let’s see, where was I? Ah, yes ... Fourscore and … got it!” Then back to Mary. “Dearest, we’re out of quills.”

Or the faithful at the Sermon on the Mount.

Shepherd: “Why’s he going on and on? I’m famished — all I’ve eaten today is an egg and half a loaf and half a fish. I gave the other halves to David. He’s got a big fight coming up.”

(Now would be a good time to set the record straight: Jesus did not convert water into wine at the wedding in Cana. It wasn’t even a wedding; it was a brunch. In fact, it was at this very brunch where the Brunch Davidians first got together. They later changed their name to Branch Davidians.)

But enough about religion. It’s not as if this were about Easter eggs; it’s about plain, ordinary eggs. I had my first one when I was six. I hated it. Too runny. At 18, I started drinking and discovered that eggs cured my hangovers. During my life, I’ve probably eaten more than a thousand egg-based meals. Think egg salad sandwiches, pickled eggs, devilled eggs, and poached eggs. But never scrambled eggs: too labour-intensive.

A disturbing aside: When I was 12, my teammates “egged” our house after my base-running error had cost us the local baseball championship. That evening, my dad and I were doing a jigsaw puzzle on the dining-room table when we heard eggs splashing off our front door. Furious, my father confronted my teammates, who by then had been joined by their parents and several church groups. Dad opened the door and splash! he got bombarded. After retreating back inside, I said, “Jeez, Dad, you’ve got egg on your face.” Pop didn’t miss a beat. “Yeah,” he said, wiping his glasses, “just like you had egg on your face when you made that base-running error.”

I said it was disturbing; not funny.

One quibble I have with eggs is why do egg producers package their product by size — jumbo, extra-large, large, medium, and small? I’d guess the difference in volume between a jumbo egg and a small egg is about the size of a teardrop.

I’ll bet during its long history, not one person has ever fried a large-grade egg and said, “I’m not that hungry; if only I had a small one.” Or a person on a diet: “That’s it for me, no more large eggs. From now on, only medium.”

The egg is also partly responsible for perhaps the lamest joke ever: “Why did the chicken cross the street?” Answer: “To get to the other side.” Stop it, you’re killing me!

And what about the age-old question: “Which came first: the chicken or the egg?” That question came up a few days ago when I invited a few friends over to see my new fish tank.

When we couldn’t agree on an answer, I turned to Google—and again, hundreds of explanations but nothing conclusive. Then I got an idea: Who better to solve this riddle than the woman who took my phone order at the Chalet BBQ? After all, she’s worked there forever.

So I flipped open my cellphone and punched (in the old days we dialled).

“Hi, do you remember me?” I asked.

“Yes,” she hissed, “and don’t think I haven’t reported you to the police.”

“You’ve got the wrong person,” I replied. “I’m the guy who ordered from you last week. I took the rice instead of the fries. Remember?

“Oh, sorry,” she said. “You sound just like my father.” Then after a pause: “What’ll it be tonight?”

“Actually, I hope you can settle something for me. My friends and I were arguing about which came first — the chicken or the egg. I figured who better to ask than someone who’s spent years in the chicken industry? Care to give it a try? If I like your answer, you’ll get a prize.”

“Well,” she said, “I’ll give you the very, very condensed version because we’re busy tonight. In a nutshell, two birds that weren’t really chickens created a chicken egg. The egg came first, and then it hatched a chicken.”

“Amazing,” I said, flabbergasted. “You’ve settled the argument.”

“So do I get a prize?”

“Winner, winner, chicken dinner,” I shouted. “Just don’t go near the rice.”

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