There are 3 different words for rice in Tagalog: kanin (cooked rice), bigas (unhusked, uncooked rice), palay (rice plant). Furthermore “ulam” literally means “food eaten with rice” and is a general term for everything else. And the word “kain” means “to eat.”
American food culture revolves around bread as the major source of carbohydrates, while Filipinos eat rice with every meal (so much so that a meal without rice is not a meal and a Filipino will likely want to eat again a short while later). Which is better? Bread and rice offer similar nutritional content, especially when eating white bread or white rice, which generally lack the vitamins and minerals found in their brown counterparts. Rice deals a higher dose of carbohydrates per serving, which may or may not be advantageous depending on your specific dietary requirements. Wheat bread and brown rice differ more significantly in the amount of micronutrients: brown rice has more magnesium, used to make lipids and DNA, regulate hormone balance and support cell communication; wheat bread has more iron needed to transport and store oxygen; both contain similar amounts of fiber.1 What about gluten?! Read this article and decide for yourself whether choosing rice is preferable merely because it is gluten-free: http://toitangata.co.nz/uploads/files/Gluten-free_Julia_Buhs-Catterall.pdf
Be it production or texture, America is more of a bread culture, but the Philippines is very much a rice culture. In an attempt to more fully understand rice culture, I recently visited a rice field and learned to harvest rice alongside Filipinos.
While living in the Philippines has not completely cured me of my tendency toward bread, I do eat rice (at least a little) for lunch and dinner everyday. To explore another carbohydrate option, I have found corn to be available, cheaper, and more nutritious than rice. So why does rice account for 85% of Filipino cereal consumption, while corn is a meager 10%?* Corn is generally considered ‘poor man’s food,’ while rice is historically associated with the elite. In pre-colonial times2:
- Rice was a prestige food, produced in limited quantities by labor-intensive means.
- Rice was given as tribute to chiefs and overlords.
- Rice was consumed in large quantities in postharvest feasting.
- Rice was an article of trade.
*Note that the remaining 5% is bread and pastas. Some traditions may be engrained in culture, however in urbanized areas, like Metro Manila, a much higher proportion of bread, noodles, biscuits…etc. are consumed regularly.2
- Aguilar, F.V. (2005) “Rice in the Filipino Diet and Culture.” Philippine Institute for Development Studies. Discussion Paper Series No 2005-15. http://scholar.googleusercontent.com/scholar?q=cache:ew0S16d60EYJ:scholar.google.com/+philippine+diet+rice&hl=en&as_sdt=0,5.