All about rice
Rice and cultureRice and us

The relationship between rice and people has inspired songs, paintings, stories and other modes of communication

Thousands of years ago, people from East to South Asia settled throughout river deltas and domesticated wild rice. The productivity of wetland rice crops led to population growth and to the development of society and civilization.

Both in ancient times and today, the intense labour needed for rice cultivation - to reclaim land, to build and maintain terrace systems, to synchronize cropping patterns against soil erosion, landslides and flooding - has required villages to work together. The unifying effect of rice on people is particularly evident in the vast Mekong River Delta, where villages with distinct cultures joined to tame the land and cultivate their staple crop. Furthermore, the need for standing water in rice-based systems has widely shaped the landscapes of rural areas and villages. In these ways, the struggle to cultivate and harvest rice has moulded community structures and a corresponding culture of rice.

The relationship between rice and people has inspired songs, paintings, stories and other modes of communication. Festivals have been dedicated to rice and rice cultivation - for example, the Land Opening Festival in China, which marks the beginning of the rice season. Rice was considered divine by many Asian emperors and kings in ancient times. The Japanese, even today, refer to rice as their "mother" and regard rice farmers as the guardian of their culture and the countryside.

Over the centuries, rice has shaped the cultures and dietary habits of its cultivators and consumers. Thanks to its numerous varieties, rice provides a wide range of flavours, even when simply boiled or steamed. Depending on the region, rice is traditionally coupled with fish or meat, or with legumes such as beans, lentils and chickpeas. The combination of rice and fish in Asian countries has generated the term "rice-fish societies", and the strong relationship between wet rice production and fisheries is reflected in many proverbs from the ancient Tai and Angkor Wat civilizations ("in the fields there is rice and in its water there is fish"). The combination of rice and legumes characterizes cuisines from Cajun to Mexican to Middle Eastern to Southern European. In Columbia, "rice and beans" is acclaimed as the national food. This basic dish continues to be the sustenance of the poor in many countries.

It is significant that almost every culture has its own way of eating rice and that these different recipes are part of the world's cultural heritage. The importance of rice to villagers in Senegal is evident in that special guests are honoured with a rice meal. From a relatively unknown crop a hundred years ago, rice today dominates the cultural - and even political - landscape in Sacramento, California.

Cultivation of rice has shaped social habits and landscape across the globe. In the intense summer heat of the Nile Delta, people seek refuge from the heat in the cool air of the rice fields. A panoramic view of flat rice fields in the footlands of the snow-capped European Alps a delight for visitors to northern Italy, home of world-renowned risotto and other rice dishes.