Tuesday, September 1, 2009

An ode to my rice cooker

My rice cooker is probably the most expensive and beloved single kitchen piece I own. Yes, I do use my roommates lovely all-clad pots and pans with a bit more frequency, but I don't own those. Actually, come to think of it, I don't really own much in my apartment. Good thing she is my "heterosexual life partner," because if she ever left me, all I would be left with are two ancient carpets, some mismatched plates and silverware, a bookshelf, and my crappy twin bed, which I hate but am stuck with since my room is too small for a "big girl" bed.

Back to my rice cooker. Do not be fooled, readers, by he high-tech looking cookers/steamers seen online with all sorts of bells and whistles. It is a marketing scam and you will be suckered. The best rice cookers are the kind used in Asian restaurants and they are very simple and all seemed to be designed by some ellow who has a penchant for pink and white flowers.

The construction is simple: the non-stick pot in which you put the rice and water (or whatever else you wish to cook), the actual electronic steamer/heater that the pot goes in, and a single switch that you push to specify "cook" or "keep warm." That is it.

This kind of rice cooker has been found in every Asian household I have been in--Vietnamese to Chinese, young twenty-somethings to grandmothers--and was the kind I simply had to have upon moving to NYC three years ago.

Unfortunately, I could not find the proper kind online, and so decided that a trip to Manhattan's restaurant district was in order. My friends, being sane, had zero desire to accompany me on this sojurn, and I did not have Vronsky in my life yet, so I had to wait until my sister, Amanda, came to visit. In the interim, I attempted to make rice in a pot on the stove, which was disaster. It was dry and bland, not fluffy and sticky like white rice is supposed to be. And so I just had to do without until she came.

When she finally she arrived, I was suffering from some serious rice withdrawl, and without the slightest regard for the weather forecast, off we went. After poking around in several of the restaurant supply store, I finally found the perfect 4 cup cooker. Many of the stores carried the right kind but only in the commercial size (about 12 cups), which was much to large for my needs. After a little of bargaining and inquiry into my ethnic descent (only someone with a po-po would ever haggle over the price of a rice-cooker, and I'm not even very good--she could probably get the price of a diamond down to $11 if she tried), I finally had a rice cooker to call my own.

Resisting the urge to buy more cookware at fabulous wholesale prices, Amanda and I walked further south towards Chinatown, as I needed some jasmine rice with which to christen my new cooker. If we were lucky, perhaps we'd find some lapchong (Chinese sausage) to steam in there as well. Since the cooker in the box weighed a good 15lbs and was incredibly awkward to carry, we stopped in the first grocery store we saw, only to find out that rice only came in 10 and 20 lb sacks.

Undeterred, I bought the ten-pounder and we set out for home. We were a good twenty blocks away from my apartment when the skies suddenly opened and Amanda and I were stuck in a torrential downpour. Luckily, we had covered both cooker and rice in plastic bags. Un-luckily, we were soaked to the skin in about 5 seconds and now looked like two homeless bag ladies. No cab would stop for us, our respective burdens were quite heavy and now we were cold and wet to boot.

We decided to stop at the first restaurant we saw and wait-out the storm. By this point we were on 2nd Ave and 9th Street and the Ukrainian National Home beckoned to us. Figuring that the East Village is home to stranger people than us in our current state, we went inside and were immediately greeted by the gruff, if kindly, hostess who offered us towels to sit on and to dry our hair.

Amanda and I have a fairly decent command of the Russian language between us, and after amusing our waiter with our mad skillz, we warmed our bones with strong tea from the samovar percolating in the corner, borscht soup, beautiful large varenyky (pierogis), and travorg (buttermilk-cheese) blitnzes.

By the time we were finished, the rain had abated and we slung our rice-sack and cooker over our shoulders and made our way towards the door. On the way out, we were met by the chef, a giant bear of a man who would not be out of place in Alfons Muchas' mural "The History of the Slavic People," who said he simple had to know what on earth we were carrying in those two bags.

After divulging the contents of said sacks, he nods and simply says, "Very good. I have just such a cooker myself."

If you desire such a cooker, head down to any restaurant supply store, either in NYC's restaurant district or in a Chinatown (and there's one in every major American city so no excuses). In addition to cooking white rice to perfection, you can steam vegetables (broccoli and cauliflower are my two top choices), sausages, make hard boiled eggs, and eggs over hard/medium, to name a few. My rice brand of choice is Nishiki rice, found in some regular groceries and certainly in any ethnic food store.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, my sweet girlfriend is indeed learning the art and craft of food writing. Lucky for her I was not in her life, as I would have likely declined such an adventure and sadly missed out on the fun.

    Word of advice: Try JJ's lapchong sometime. You won't be disappointed!