The Truth at the Bottom of the Rice Bowl

My in-laws and I made a tacit agreement in the last six months. They will not ask me about my rice consumption. I will try hard to increase my rice consumption. This concordance arose this past summer when, per their usual, they asked Lovey and me about our rice consumption. Then, they asked again. And again. They asked exactly how often we used the rice cooker that they gave us. They took turns. Mom-in-law: How much rice? Dad-in-law: How much rice? Only, it felt like they were pointing accusing fingers at me, as though I was depriving my Asian husband of proper sustenance, changing his rice diet to one of pure trans fat mini-donuts which I would force-feed him in fistfuls at dinner, and, then, shortly after he had reached his REM cycle at night, I would climb into bed with him and whisper, “You want to be -happy don’t you? Why not eat a Happy Meal?!” foisting more trans fat french fries down his throat until morning.

There is a code of pleasantry in Korean culture whereby asking, “Have you been eating well? Enough rice?” is the equivalent of asking, “How are you today?” If you are well, this means that you have eaten enough rice. If you are not well, you have for some tragic and inexplicable reason not consumed your daily ration of rice. The latter is cause for great consternation among Korean parents who escaped starvation in their country’s war whereby families were displaced, and rice was scarce. If I lived through that kind of hell on earth, I, too, probably would want to ensure forever more that my family was all safe and stuffing face with rice.

I am surely not trying to be an ingrate. The fact that I let our rice cooker’s plug get too close to the burner a few months ago and literally torched our rice cooker was just, well, it was just an accident, okay?

But here is my reality: I am a 4’10” American girl. Most of my meal portions are as large as Fig Newtons. There is nothing mounting about my bowl of carbs which look more like ant hills than, say, the mountainous bowls of rice consumed by my Korean counterparts. It’s not that I do not like or want to eat more rice. But you cannot fit a football into your belly-button, just as you cannot fit a small rice paddy into my wee little stomach.

I think my in-laws have finally understood this. I spent 5 days at their home over Christmas. We laughed, we misinterpreted each other’s broken Konglish, we laughed again. My mother-in-law cooked non-stop. But during this visit, she did not ask me about my rice consumption. She monitored my general food intake, such that two hours would pass after a meal and she would look at me aghast, wondering how I could stay upright having eaten up so little rice, showing no traces of faintness. I am not sure if she expected me to suddenly slip into a hypoglycemic fit, slamming her cabinets and scavenging for Handy-Snax, banging her wooden spoons on the linoleum and yelling, “Can a girl get some food around here?!?” The truth is that I was more than satisfied. I enjoyed many good meals at the home of my in-laws. Thus, I graciously accepted the leftovers they helped us to pack in my suitcase back to Boston.

I am really looking forward to visiting my in-laws again next year for the holidays. Sure, their kitchen may not boast a dozen tray of Christmas cookies like my mother’s, but I always enjoy the healthful meals that they prepare. I will even look forward to eating a reasonable portion of sticky rice. I’m beginning to think that rice is kind of like the adhesive that keeps us all together in our mixed-race family. So, once again, I look forward especially to a visit with my in-laws at this time next year. Until then, I’ll be dreaming of our White (Rice) Christmas.

About The Author


Kendraspondence is the personal mischief of Kendra Stanton Lee.


  1. First, ahhh how I miss the word ‘Konglish’! Part of my day-to-day vocab for three years and now so foreign sounding. I long to scold teenagers, informing them that “no, Konglish is not English and you are therefore breaking the school rules”

    Second, my inlaw experience! Mine seem to think “She can’t handle our cuisine [including rice]. Better buy bagels”. When the choice for breakfast is rice & eggs or a dry bagel, I am all for rice and eggs. In fact, I think eggs taste way better with rice than with toast. Tim (their other white kid-in-law) and I can both handle our traditional Filipino foods, too. Well… perhaps the exception is fish-head soup. “John Mark and Joy used to fight over who would eat the eyeballs” – I’ll pass, but thanks!

    …Oh and I sit at the table and I get *gasp* a knife and fork. I mean, I couldn’t possibly manage with a fork and spoon as Filipinos use (for everything but steak. Steak will warrant a knife.)! So I calmly get up, go to the drawer where flatware is kept and exchange my fork for a spoon. Then they sit in awe as I cut up sausage with a spoon. Dude – that’s a piece of cake! I am just lucky they don’t use chopsticks because, despite dozens of lessons from students, friends, and restaurant employees, I’d probably have more success knitting with those sticks than eating with them!

    Happy new year and (prepare for overused, lame joke) have a rice day!

  2. Once again, Kendra, you leave me giggling. The whole idea of being 4 foot 10 inches tall and being expected to consume as much as, say, an averaged sized person is something I too have much experience of. Heeheee.

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