Tuesday, August 4, 2009
Imagine you sit down to eat your breakfast, taking a spoonful of it, but only to bite down into a little rock. Ouch!, that's what happened to me this morning. My in-laws (whom I'm staying with here in Kolkata, India for a month) made a nice chira dish, which I'm now going to use for analysis. As an American, I didn't really know what chira was, so I looked it up. It's a type of rice, in this case a flattened rice.
"Chira (Flattened rice, also called beaten rice) is a dehusked rice which is flattened into flat light dry flakes. These flakes of rice swell when added to liquid, whether hot or cold, as they absorb water, milk or any other liquids. It can be eaten raw by immersing it in plain water or milk or curd, with salt or sugar or jaggery to taste, or lightly fried in oil."
And the actual dish we were eating is called Chniré'r pulao, which is a type of Bengali food.
"Chniré'r pulao :- A snack prepared by immersing the rice flakes in cold water, drying them, and then preparing pilaf-style with nuts, raisins, black pepper, green chillies, and salt and sugar to taste. This is very popular as a breakfast or evening dish in families, and may not be available in any stores or restaurants."
Ours was a slight variation from the above, though, with potato chunks instead of raisins.
So my father-in-law had previously searched the cooked breakfast dish before any was served and had found 8 rocks! Now it is better to search for them before you cook the rice, but we didn't think of it until afterwards this time.
Data points for our breakfast of chira this morning then were:
|Consumer||Rocks Found||Plates Consumed|
|My wife||3||1 1/2|
Average (and pretty consistent average at that) = 2 rocks per plate
That made for a total of 17 rocks found in our family-sized serving tray (which made 4-5 servings) this morning. If we hadn't pre-searched, the average per plate would've doubled to about 4 rocks per serving plate. That is one too many, if you ask me.
I took some photos. Click any of them to enlarge them.
The first photo is of my full first plate before eating. Looks fairly innocent, eh?
Here's a close-up shot of it. Still can't see anything.
Last two photos are of 2 rocks I had found in my helpings (I ate the other 2 rocks by accident!) side-by-side with some grains of chira and an American dime to get a sense of scale.
The first one shows the whole dish for an outer sense of scale,
while the second one is a macro shot.
Also note that this data is slightly skewed as these helpings were made from the end of the bag of rice. We all know that heavy things fall to the bottom, so there tends to be more rocks at the bottom.
These rocks are small pebbles. When you bite into them, they are quite hard at first, then crumble into little bits inside your mouth. You can then feel the sandiness spreading around as you crush the remains with your teeth. It's too late at this point to do anything about it. Unless you can pinpoint them before biting down into them, they become very difficult, if not impossible, to fully remove.
This issue also occurred the last time I came to Kolkata almost 3 years ago as well. I was initially shocked and inquired to my in-laws right away as to what was going on, but they said it was normal. Oh, so rocks just happen to get mixed in during the process? Hmmm, that's interesting. Oh wait, you mean you are saying they purposely put them in?! That is another story entirely then. And these rocks are not just in chira bags, but in all types of rice bags. Since it was still going on on my second trip here, I feel something needs to be said about it.
So my call to Indian merchants and/or suppliers (I list both here, as I don't really know for sure who the culprits are) is this: Why? Actually, that is a dumb question to propose. Of course we can determine why... because some "schmuck" started it all. So everyone else has to do it now, too. So rather than ask why, I will just pose a suggestion. Get a name brand for your rice, distinct and unique. Market that brand as not containing rocks. Stick to that promise. Eventually people will realize your rice is honest and will pay more for the same bag size as your competitors (just enough as if it were all 100% rice, though, or heck, maybe even more). You will get more and more customers as word spreads, too, and it will save them all time and aggravation. Then when your competitors start to see themselves trailing in your dust, they may even catch on and revert back into the right direction as well. Then consumers of rice in general don't have to eat rocks or waste time sifting through their food for them, while at the same time, you merchants/suppliers save the extra step of adding rocks in yourselves as well. Nothing at all is otherwise lost for you. Win:Win.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
We had chira again for breakfast this morning, but this time no rocks! My father-in-law had asked at the market for rice without rocks this time, and they gave him a different brand. It cost more, though, which would make sense, and is a good thing. He said the normal chira costs about 18 rupees/lb, while this new one here costs about 20 rupees/lb. He bought it in a 2 lb sack, so it cost only about 4 rupees more total. In general that's an increase in cost of a little over 10%. Now it didn't come in a labelled package, but rather from a bin which they scooped out from. So it must be a word-of-mouth thing then. Either way, great!, I see hope.
Sunday, August 16, 2009
We had more chira for breakfast. Interestingly enough from the same apparently "no rocks" rice from above, I ended up getting 2 rocks! The first I had already eaten. It was too late for that one. As far as the second, I accidentally bit it into bits, so then had to spit the whole clump out. So we still have the rocks issue then after all.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
I did some "googling" to see what I could find on this subject. There turns out to be not that much at all, or definitely not any major articles about it. I did find a handful of tidbits alluding to the issue, though, and I will now detail four of them.
Firstly, according to a comment left in response to a blog article online, "Congress published a chargesheet accusing BJP govt of CG [Chattisgarh] of being involved in 30 scams!!", quoting, ”The scams highlighted by the Congress included the Public Distribution System scam, mixing pebbles in rice, ...". Wow, so the Indian government has a hand in this?!
And there is a poem about it called "Pebbles In The Rice!" by Subbaraman N V (born 1941). It begins, "Pebbles in the rice / Surely not a spice...", and goes on to indicate that no laws currently prevent it, that it's very prevalent, and that nobody seems to be doing anything about it, but should.
It's also known to be a common thing among Indians. For example, in the following quote it's used as part of an article to make a point about something another level beyond it: "When wise old men say, 'Milawat ka zamaana hai', they might be talking more than pebbles in rice. Brides and grooms in urban India are changing the way they look using surgery...". The translation of the Hindi words here is: "This is the age of adulteration", meaning the corruption of food. So the "pebbles in rice" can be inferred to be somewhat commonplace then.
But the biggest source I found really is the book "The people of India : a series of photographic illustrations / India Museum, 1868 - 1875", which delineates the different types of people in India, or at least from that particular time period, with a page-long description for each along with a picture. Section "184. BUNNEA" describes the bunnea, who is a tradesman or merchant.
"Although the Bunnea is a very useful, indeed indispensable, member of society, he is rarely a popular one. He is strongly accused of false weights, or, if the weights be true, of a peculiar and dexterous knack in managing the wooden beam of his scales, which have no centre pivot except a cord fastened to the beam, as shown in the Photograph, by giving it a cant in weighing, which is not detectable even by the sharp-eyed customer, and may make a difference of an ounce or two in the weight. He is considered an adept in sanding and watering sugar, and also in sanding flour, which has a peculiarly unpleasant effect upon his customers' teeth, and, not unfrequently, produces violent subsequent altercation. In short, he is suspected of adulterating, more or less—but in all cases as far as he can—everything that he sells ; and the amount of white pebbles in rice, and of dark stones in horse gram, are best known to those who have to sift them out."
Notice in the preceding excerpt how the schemes go way beyond just putting pebbles into rice! Also from the date of the book it came from, we can see that this scheme has been going on for well over 100 years to who knows how far back!
So it seems then that pebbles in rice is a common thing that Indians know about, a facet of eating that they have come to accept, perhaps. It does seem to be getting better, though, which is good.
1. Courtesy article "Assamese Jolpan" from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License. Retrieved 8/4/2009.
2. Courtesy article "Flattened rice" from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License. Retrieved 8/4/2009.
3. Comment by Reema on article "Corruption is the greatest stumbling block to infrastructure development in India" in blog "A Wide Angle View of India". Retrieved 8/18/2009.
4. The entire poem is currently available for viewing at PoemHunter.Com - "The World's Poetry Archive", and is worth a read. Retrieved 8/18/2009.
5. "Indian couples go in for cosmetic surgery", MiD Day Infomedia, December 2008. Retrieved 8/18/2009.
6. Quellenkunde zur indischen Geschichte bis 1858, von Alois Payer, 16. "Quellen aus der Zeit des British Raj", 8. "Zum Beispiel: The people of India : a series of photographic illustrations / India Museum, 1868 - 1875
Copyright © Matt Soscia, MS9, and msnine.blogspot.com, 2009. All Rights Reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, both text and images, in any form or medium, without express and written permission from this blog’s author and owner is strictly prohibited. No commercial or reproduction rights are granted. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Matt Soscia, MS9, and msnine.blogspot.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. This article is available for publishing in your newspaper, magazine, or other periodical, either online or in print. Please contact me for licensing arrangements. Thanks.