"We cannot survive without rice.” “Rice is the reason why we work.” “I can have a meal with just rice.” “Rice is life.” “When there is rice, there is no hunger.”
These are some of the quotes I gathered when I interviewed my colleagues at Community Economic Ventures, Inc. (CEVI), a Kiva Field Partner, about what rice means to them. Rice plays a big role in the Filipino culture as well as for most other Asian countries. My dad would be the first one to agree that without rice, he is not full.
Unlike western cultures, where a cobb salad is often considered a full meal, Filipinos view salads as something that only the wealthy can afford. Let’s be real, if you live in a major city in the United States, a good salad is not cheap. For example, in San Francisco, a salad can cost between $11 to $13, and if you add proteins or extra toppings the price could go up to $16 or even $20. If you go to a small eatery, or "carinderia," in the Philippines, a meal with rice and some meat and veggies costs only 50 pesos or $1.
Twenty-one percent of the Philippines’ population lives under the national poverty line of 47 pesos per day (less than $1), and for those involved in hard physical labor jobs, eating salad is not the most sustainable way for their bodies to function. Rice, on the other hand, is a more efficient source of energy and it keeps people full for a longer period of time.
I remember the first time I went to the supermarket in Tagbilaran City. I saw how each aisle was full of small individually-packaged items, including instant coffee, shampoo and toothpaste. I was thinking to myself: “Why are these products sold this way? That’s a lot of plastic and packaging waste! Why don’t people just buy one large bottle of shampoo or a large tube of toothpaste?”
Coming from the eco-friendly city of San Francisco, this was something that was bothering me. I decided to ask my colleagues for the reason behind this and everything made much more sense. Not all Filipinos have a job in which a good paycheck is guaranteed twice a month. Those who live with a small budget or with what they earn day by day can’t afford to buy a bottle of shampoo for 160 pesos ($3.2), so instead they buy small individually-packaged products that cost 5 pesos (2.5 cents) and will last them about 5 days.
However, Filipinos are willing to spend their extra money on rice.
Instead of small packages of rice, they will buy at least 3 to 5 kilos at a time. One time, the staff at the supermarket looked at me weirdly when I asked for 500g of rice (I was moving to a new city in couple of days so I didn’t need that much). He told me that I needed to buy at least 1 kilo. I was holding up a line of 10 other people who were all puzzled by my request as well. I eventually convinced the man that I had done this before, so he gave me the rice.
Filipinos makes good use of their rice and there are a wide variety of foods that they often pair with it. Besides eating it as part of their breakfast, lunch and dinner, they make snacks, desserts and other rice-related meal products. To give you an idea, please see the pictures below for a few examples:
I think you get the idea. Filipinos LOVE their rice. When you come to visit the Philippines, be prepared to try all of these rice-related foods and treats. Also, bring your sweet tooth because Filipinos love their sweets, too!
A co-worker once told me that when someone is able to bring rice back to the dining table, it means that the head of the family has made money that day and all of their children will have a warm meal that night. So, next time you are thinking about throwing away that extra rice, think twice. Consider saving it for the next day and use it to make delicious snacks or deserts!
Thank you for reading. If you have any questions about any of the food or snacks I mentioned here, feel free to reach out!