14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 18 May 2021 — Cuban families describe Vietnamese rice sold in the rationed market as shriveled, with a bad smell and little expansion when cooked. “Here we call it ’the military man’ because it comes in platoons, there is no way that it will fall apart,” Manso García, a traditional rice producer from the Rodas area, in the province of Cienfuegos told 14ymedio.
From now on, that quality will be noticeable in the price and whoever wants to put a better product in the pot will have to scratch their pocket. A pound of imported rice from Vietnam will cost 7 pesos, while that which comes from Brazil, Uruguay or Argentina will go up to 10 pesos.
“The population, in practice, distinguishes the quality of rice, based on its origin of production, recognizing as the best quality that from the area of America,” reported the State newspaper Granma this Monday. In addition, during this month one pound of rice will be sold per person “in addition to the regulated quota.”
The official newspaper, which reproduces a text by Invasor, explains that “although it is true that not all of us could determine with the naked eye whether imported rice has 15% broken (Vietnamese) or 4% (Brazilian, Uruguayan), several consumers interviewed say they gladly pay the difference, because, indeed, the quality when cooked is superior.”
Manso García grew rice in wild lands for decades. “I would go out, to open country and plant it there, hoping that no one would steal it from me at night when I had to go home to sleep.” But, even those clandestine times are a thing of the past. “It no longer makes sense, there is not enough rain and people no longer value Creole rice,” he laments.
With time and the lack of national production, imported rice for the rationed market was gaining ground, but the local taste and the parameters to measure it remain the same. “The rice has to be shelled in most Cuban recipes, be it simply white, congris and even those mixed with meats, they like it more if the grain is distinguished”, says Alexander Flores, a young chef who until the pandemic began was an assistant chef in a Havana paladar (private restaurant).
“When the rice does not work, all the food seems bad to you,” he acknowledges. “People evaluate the entire menu based on the rice and it shouldn’t be that way, but the culinary culture has narrowed so much in this country that this product has become the standard for evaluating any restaurant.”
The situation is not much different inside the homes, although the standards are not so commercially high. “Vietnam is sending us the worst, I have no doubt that they have good rice, but I no longer want to buy when they tell me that it is from ’that friendly country’,” says a retiree from the La Timba neighborhood in Havana.
“It is a mud and it smells bad,” he alleges. “At other times it would not be so serious, because one could mix it with better things, but now my family eats rice with sauce or rice with bouillon cubes several times a week, and if the base is not good they are still hungrier.”
Uruguayan rice enjoys better opinions. Without trying, the small South American country has managed to fit into the complex ecosystem of grains in Cuba where some traditional recipes are very demanding with the way in which the grain should be cooked. “This is the last straw, in Uruguay they harvest Cuban rice,” jokes Manso García.
In their house in Rhodes, because of the flies, they have spent months “opting for the sweet potato and taro” that they plant in the backyard and in the clandestine lands that they borrow from Mother Nature. “Rice makes your food, but if it does not cook well, it will be unfortunate for you. For that, it is better to go for the vegetables.”
COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.