Monday, December 3, 2007

Not My Bowl Of Rice- the Idiom

Recently, I googled my invented phrase ‘Not My Bowl Of Rice’ just out of curiosity. I wanted to see if people are already using it as an idiom, a phrase, part of their daily vocabulary. To my surprise, there were several new entries, the most exciting of which was a review of singer Kylie Minogue’s CD called Fever. The review was titled ‘Not My Bowl Of Rice”. I guess Ms. Minogue’s new album wasn’t the reviewer’s cup of tea, not his bowl of rice. No matter, this article brings the phrase ‘Not My Bowl Of Rice’ to mainstream vocabulary, a source of pride for me and all Filipinos. We now have our very own phrase that’s being universally used out there.

People, who have not read my novel/cookbook with the same title, asked me how I ‘invented’ the phrase. I often refer them to the introduction of my book, which colorfully explains it. Here’s the excerpt:

“It’s not really my bowl of rice,” —Mother

“Why do you always say that? The correct thing to say is, It’s not my cup of tea!" I told Mother one day, fed-up with her made-up idiom, also irritated that she didn't think she felt like going to an air conditioned matinee on that sweltering Philippine summer afternoon.

“Oy,” she pointed out, “Look around you. Do you see any cups of tea lying around?” she asked, gesturing at our lunch table filled with wondrous Filipino dishes: pork Adobo, Lumpia, chicken barbecue and rice, lots of rice.

Reluctantly, I shook my head. No tea. The only tea I drank was Salabat, ginger tea, and only when I was sick during the cold season or as a holiday drink on Christmas morning.

“No tea, huh?” But look, bowls of rice! Bowls and bowls of rice! So I say, ‘Not my bowl of rice.” It’s better. It’s correct. Di ba?” Am I right? She announced with a triumphant grin.

How could I argue with her twisted logic after that? Rice, to us Filipinos, is more than just a staple food. It is an integral part of our culture. The rituals involved in the cycle of planting, maintaining, irrigating, harvesting and ingesting rice have enriched our lives far beyond what a single staple could ever do.

Rice – steamed, white, fragrant and mild –is the center of the Filipino meal. Everything else is eaten with it. It is a shaper of our tastes: the very salty, the very sour, the very sweet and the very spicy are especially savory when eaten against the bland background taste of rice. Filipinos simply cannot live without rice. So English idioms be damned, ‘Not my bowl of rice’ has more flavor for us Filipinos than a cup of tepid tea.

“So now you get my meaning,” Mother said, seeing my acquiescent face. “Now we can go to the movies!”

“Really?” I shrieked happily. Wow! Life is such a bowl of cherries. As long as you agree with Mother.

Here’s the book’s recipe for Chicken Adobo. It is especially savory eaten with fragrant Jasmine rice.

3 lbs chicken
3 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
2 bay leaves
8-12 cloves garlic, crushed
3/4 cup white vinegar
1/3 cup soy sauce
3 tbsp oil

Clean chicken, rinse and wipe dry. Cut into large pieces and rub with salt and pepper. Put pieces into a deep saucepan and add bay leaves and crushed garlic. Pour on vinegar and soy sauce and marinate for an hour.

Cook over moderate heat until chicken is tender, adding a little water or stock as the liquid evaporates to keep meat moist. When chicken is cooked, turn up heat for a few minutes to dry out any remaining liquid. Pour oil into pan and fry on high heat until chicken pieces are dark brown and crisp on the surface. Remove from pan and drain well before serving.

E-mail me Not My Bowl of Rice topics that you want featured in this blog. We’ll try to accommodate everyone. After all, this blog is meant to be everyone’s bowl of rice.

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