“What is this food or drink that you cannot get rid of as a person?”
I remember asking this question to a couple of young American friends of mine. I had this one friend go “I definitely cannot live without coffee” while another one said with no hesitation: “I cannot imagine my life without peanut butter”. She added she could eat anything with peanut butter (crackers, apples, etc). Not only did I find this very moment interesting as it gave me the opportunity to learn more about my friends’ culture, but on top of all, it literally made me think of what my answer would be and what my culture is like.
Don’t get me wrong! I am not speaking on behalf of all Malagasy people. Instead, I will just share some thoughts based on what I saw and heard as a young Malagasy girl that has been raised in Madagascar within a Malagasy family. If you read books about our island or if googled up “staple food in Madagascar”, you are very likely to find out that most of Malagasy people eat rice three times a day. If rice is not your staple food, you might think that eating rice three times a day is way too much, sounds crazy and is even boring. Good news is the Malagasy L.O.V.E it and have different ways of cooking it. Since what you eat rice with matters a lot, some families get very creative and mix up a lot of ingredients to make it as yummy as possible. Chances are that you will bump into rice recipes served with stew, fish, chicken, meat, peanut butter, vegetables, and even coconut milk.
I can devote an article to sharing delicious rice recipes around the island in the future but for now, I would love to share with you all 3 reasons why I am saying how much the Malagasy people love rice:
I took this photo in the city of Antananarivo. I was in the middle of the traffic when I decided to capture this moment as I realized I was in the city yet surrounded by rice fields.
1. Rice = money
I remember last year back in September, I went to Alaotra Mangoro region. I had a couple of interesting discussions with mothers. But what struck me most was when this mother of 7 kids started to talk about how she paid for her children’s schooling. Like a number of people in the village where we visited, she and her husband have livestock and lands where they grow rice and cassavas. I was very surprised when this woman said “My two youngest kids go to a private school. And since my husband and I cannot afford the tuition and fees, we give a certain amount of rice directly to the school instead and it’s all good.”
2. Rice is part of our language
It’s amazing how much the love of rice can be seen in our language whether it is spoken or not. For those of you who speak English, what question would you ask a person if you wanted to know whether or not she/he had eaten something at noon? I guess your question would be “Have you already had lunch?” Am I right? FYI, where I am from, a ton of people would ask instead “Have you eaten rice already?” Another thing is that there is this pretty special thing in some classic/simple restaurants that we call “hotely” in a lot of places in the island. They would purposely omit to write “rice” on the menu because in their mind, rice is already implied. So instead of writing “Rice + X –> 5000 Ariary” they would only have the name of what comes with rice written. This photo I am showing is an example. On top of the board is written “Today’s menu” but right after this is written “eel”. In this case, “eel” is the very first option the clients have. Be prepared then, if you came to such Malagasy “hotely’s” one day, expect to get rice even if you didn’t ask for it 🙂
This is a photo I took on my way down to Tamatave (eastern coast of Madagascar). We had lunch in Moramanga.
3. Malagasy proverbs and arts treasure rice
I have heard about 57 Malagasy proverbs about rice. I don’t know about you but this seems like a pretty big number to me. The Malagasy academy might even come up with a greater number but since my point was just to show you how much we care about rice; I would love to share with you one of my favorite rice-related Malagasy proverbs. “Vary sy rano an-tsaha tsy mifanary, an-tanàna tsy mifandao”. This proverb talks about what our attitude towards one another should be like. Literally, it says “rice and water in the field are bound to each other; and that in town they cannot help but be together”. This implies one of the most powerful values of Malagasy culture which is called “fihavanana”. This proverb teaches us the importance of being there for one another; the importance of not living just for your own self but the importance of living to make a difference in other people’s lives.
I am sharing this video as a bonus since it is a very well-known song sung by one of the most loved and appreciated bands of all time in Malagasy music called Mahaleo. It’s entitled Rano sy Vary…literally means “Rice and Water”. This time, “rice” and “water” imply the story of a couple who love each other. Enjoy!!!! 🙂