Being Chinese and NOT Eating Rice Often

I rarely cook rice at home.  I haven’t even used my rice cooker since November 2014!  And I’m of Chinese descent.  As a child, I ate rice nearly daily – always at dinner as I ate western-style breakfasts (eggs and toast or cereal.  Sometimes, a very unique version of oatmeal my grandmother made consisting of plain instant oatmeal with a poached egg) and lunches (sandwiches, sometimes with Chinese filling like char siu or soy sauce roast chicken).  Things first changed when I went away to university, as I lived on campus and was on a meal plan, but even then, I ate “regular” starches like potatoes and wheat pastas – in addition to rice.  Alternative grains didn’t come in until after I married.

sorghum and steamed chicken

Recent dinner I made featuring pesto steamed chicken breast and sorghum (and a little bit of overcooked basil in the sorghum)

In the past five years, I’ve pretty much become obsessed with so-called “alternative” grains.  My pantry is stocked full of them, ranging from more “common” items like quinoa (which isn’t truly a grain) to sorghum, buckwheat (not super-uncommon, but most people use its flour for pancakes and the like) and freekeh (a new favourite, though I don’t eat it as regularly as I do quinoa).  I’ve used quinoa (and its cousin, kaniwa (baby quinoa)) as a substitute for fried rice as well as casseroles.  Quinoa also makes a perfect turkey stuffing for Thanksgiving and Christmas.  In fact, it’s sort of a play on my dad’s sticky rice stuffing (though I do not use taro or mushrooms).  However, I really think my family members find this odd.  Well, probably not my parents (they’re used to it now), but likely everyone else.  I mean, how can someone of (southern) Chinese descent NOT eat rice often, right?

I know I’ve said I’m a bit on the conservative side – especially compared to many fashion/lifestyle writers I know.  I guess I’m not when it comes to food.  Especially to some of my relatives who live on the other side of the Pacific – even those in my age range.  I think they just don’t criticize out of politeness.  Or perhaps it’s because I’m not strictly, say, paleo or gluten-free (the former would probably drive them nuts as loving starchy carbs – especially rice and wheat – is supposedly a “Cheng trait,” and most of my Hong Kong relatives (the ones we keep in touch with) are from the Cheng side).  I know that at least one has said my salad-for-lunch and regular barre class routine is really only something some expats do.  Well, I’m not exactly a “local” Hong Konger, am I?  I was born, raised and LIVE in Toronto!  I guess they really mean it’s something they’re not too keen on.  At the same time, it sounds like passive criticism.  As if what I’m doing isn’t “normal.”

bulghur and buckwheat

My not making rice at home often isn’t an issue of “identity” as I’m sure you might think.  I don’t have “issues” with being of Chinese descent.  It’s really just what I like.  And I think not having parents and grandparents who made GOOD home cooked meals helped me expand my interests.  As I’ve written before, unlike most kids of immigrants, I was never taught traditional recipes, thanks to a grandmother who did not believe it was “lady-like” to be in the kitchen.  Instead, I’m creating new ones on things I liked as a child.  And it’s a good thing, I think.  By the way, I DO own a wok.  And I use it much more frequently than cooking rice.

About Cynthia Cheng Mintz


Cynthia Cheng Mintz is the founder and webitor-in-chief of this site and the petite-focused site, Shorty Stories. She has also written for other publications including the Toronto Star and has blogged for The Huffington Post. Her first novel, Aspirations, was published in 2007. Outside of writing, Cynthia researches and advises philanthropic ideas for family funds and foundations and also volunteers.

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Cynthia Cheng Mintz

Cynthia Cheng Mintz is the founder and webitor-in-chief of this site and the petite-focused site, Shorty Stories. She has also written for other publications including the Toronto Star and has blogged for The Huffington Post. Her first novel, Aspirations, was published in 2007. Outside of writing, Cynthia researches and advises philanthropic ideas for family funds and foundations and also volunteers.