Would anyone be interested in getting together for a taste test of different rice? No? Ah well, I didn't think so.
I'm not sure how many folks buy a lot of rice, but I guess I've always bought more than my fair share of the stuff. Years ago, a good buddy of mine who was working for a Matsushita subsidiary scored me a top of the line National fuzzy logic rice cooker that replaced this weird West Bend steamer / rice cooker that I bought in Berkeley under unforgettable circumstances... no, wait. I was talking about rice here. Right now, I'm down to two kinds: Safeway enriched Calrose rice [cheap] and Kagayaki Kapika rice [expensive]. I haven't tried the Safeway stuff yet but something tells me it's gonna be kinda plain compared to the Kagayaki. I'm currently out of basmati and jasmine, and it's been a long time since I had any sticky, wild, or black rice in the house [I know wild isn't rice, but hey]. And I don't think I've ever bought brown rice, although I don't mind eating it at Long Life Vegi House in Berkeley.
Sometimes I do wonder how it is that so many folks only know Minute Rice; then again, not everyone grew up in California towns with good Japanese restaurants, and not everyone had wacky Jewish roommates in college whose hippie parents bought them huge sacks of basmati rice every time they drove up from Orange County to visit. If you grew up in Nebraska, I'd be very surprised if you ever had anything other than Rice-a-Roni or boil-in-a-bag starch. Hell, even here, depending on your socioeconomic background, you might not be aware that there is good rice to be had - a large family in Safeway today couldn't decide between rice and potatoes, and wound up going for dehydrated mashed potato.
When I was a student in Germany, I'll never forget the night I got together with my fellow Antioch College students for a night of excruciatingly cheap Italian wine and stir-fried veggies. To be polite, we'd invited the one "didn't really fit in" person in our group, a cheerleader-esque Southern belle wh o had real troubles with the language and culture [not to mention a very strange relationship with her fiancé, but that's another story]. I'd always assumed it was just because she was from the South, where surely everyone is inherently culturally retarded, but no, it was stranger than that. She had never had rice before. Ever. I couldn't believe my ears. Anne Westphal and Beth [dammit, I can't remember her last name off the top of my head!] and I were in the kitchen cooking up a storm, when this woman came in [can't remember her name either, but I do remember she had the killer dorm room, whereas I had a stall in a 1960s alterna-living experimental dorm with the noisy TV room next door] and innocently asked what that white stuff is, pointing to our big pot of steamed rice [this was really low end, El Cheapo rice from the Asian market near the trainstation, around the corner from the Eritrean restaurant: it was also the only place to get peanut butter in town at the time, though now, thirteen years later, you can find that in any supermarket in Germany]. We just assumed she was trying to be funny in an utterly inane way... but no! She really meant it! Ever get in one of those situations where you're laughing at someone with your friends because you think they're trying to be funny... but it turns out they're just really wack? Man, that was bad. I don't think she ever trusted us again. Anyhow, after the wine [big flimsy 1.5l glass bottles with screw-caps, not Stelvin mind you but screw-caps] and the stir-fry, we kinda forgot about it for the evening, which was good. I think we wound up drinking at a smoky jazz club down the road. Those were the days, even if jazz sucks.
So, rice. I think the reason it appeals to me so much is that as of late I spend so much of my time trying to experience tastes, smells, textures, and so on. Specifically, I enjoy trying to pay careful attention to relatively small differences between things. And what's more generically the same than rice? Because, after all, for most of us Americans, it's just that weird fluffy stuff that comes out of a bag, drenched in something from Chun King with a lot of corn starch and sugar. But... there can be a lot more there if you will yourself to pay attention. Tangentially, I've spoken about trying to change the way I see food from 'mmmm, lots of stuff to fill myself with' to 'pay careful attention to it, experience it fully, but don't wantonly take more than your fair share', but that's again another topic.
Just as "wine" can at first seem all one thing [fermented grape juice], over time you can really draw yourself out to experience it in all of its diversity. Same goes for rice, and I suppose even God, come to think of it.