My earliest memory of rice or rather lunch/dinner, during childhood was that of little balls of rice made with palm by my mother and keeping these in the plate. She would then feed me these small balls at precise intervals, giving sufficient time for me to chew these rice balls. After 32 years, I too have started this practice of making rice balls for my daughter and feeding her.
Usually, when the toddler is ready to eat rice, the mother or the granny, mixes the soft rice with a little bit of ajwain (carom seeds, known as ‘vavu in Telgugu) and a little bit of ghee (clarified butter). And then makes small, rounded, rice balls of this ‘vavu annam’ with the help of the palm and lovingly feeds the child. Carom seeds enhance the digestion process, thus ensuring that the toddlers do not suffer from colic pain. This meal is altered with dal (lentils) and rice. And is introduced in the later stages of childhood. Most of the kids are fed cooked dal rice (pappu annam, as pappu refers to dal in Telugu) as this is packed with protein which is essential for their growth and development. The cooked dal is mixed with rice, some ghee and salt. This is mixed well and made into small balls known as pappu mudda. These rice balls made with palms are known as ‘goru’ mudda in Telugu. Mudda means a ball made with a morsel of boiled rice. As far as I remember, it is the tastiest morsel and always brims with a ‘mothers’ love!
Why is a ‘mudda’ neat?
By making small rice balls, the food remains intact and does not spill all over the place. Also, the quantity looks lesser to a child, who thinks that this can be consumed soon. As usually the toddlers are fussy about lunch or dinner. Many grownups too, mixed their rice, and make ‘mudda’s and savor them. As this is pretty neat and somehow these ‘rounded morsels’ taste better.
Rice balls from around the world:
Talking about rice balls, reminds me of my trip to Nagoya, Japan. Here, for lunch we were given a ‘Bento box’ a typical Japanese lunch box, which contained neatly shaped rice balls. Onigiri or omusubi (rice balls) are staple of the Bento boxes. Though these were plain, a variety of accompaniments were included in the box. One had to pick these rice balls with chopsticks, dip it in the various sauces and savor it. I tried my hand at using chopsticks but unfortunately failed. And then resorted to eating these with a spoon. I noticed here that the Japanese people respect food and do not waste it. And they always bow as a sign of respect before partaking their meal.
Today, April 19, happens to be the ‘National Rice ball day’.
Here are some facts about ‘rice balls’.
In Japanese cuisine:
a) The staple diet of Japanese is rice. Their cuisine include rice balls which are plain or made with filling inside, and soaked in vinegar
b) The ancient tradition of making rice balls in Japan has been in place since the 11the century.
c) The Japanese refer to these rice balls as ‘Onigiri’ which means ‘to hold on to’
d) Usually the rice ball is made with white sticky rice (plain or with a filling) and wrapped around with a piece of nori seaweed. These are beautiful shaped and decorated to depict cute faces.
In Italian cusine:
1) The other type of rice balls in Italian cuisine are called aracini.
2) These rice balls seem to have originated in Sicily in the 10th century.
3) They are made with short grain rice balls (plain or with a filling) which are coated with breadcrumbs and fried to obtain an orange color. Its name is derived from the word arancia which means orange in Italian. The filling inside may vary.