Let Them Eat Rice: Exploring the Pinoy Unli-Rice Obsession

August 26, 2018

From iced tea refills to Internet connectivity, everything’s offered as an unlimited product or service these days. Although we don’t really need them, we consumers buy into these marketing strategies, as if the world benefits from live tweets of what we’re about to eat (a practice I’m peeved at, but also guilty of).

In the case of our unlimited rice obsession, most people chalk it up to the fact that the Philippines is a rice-producing country. Hence, the natural tendency is for us to consume what we have a lot of.  Upon doing some “research” (thanks to Google), I found that there are a lot more interesting theories out there. Here are some that you can mull over, while you’re face-deep in your third bowl of unlimited rice.

“Sulit” Monster (Utility Theory)

Let’s admit it: we’re all suckers for a bargain. This sulit mentality probably springs from our fluctuating economy, which makes us want the best value for our hard-earned money. We’re deceived by the unlimited rice deal, not only because it satiates unrelenting hunger, but also because we feel that we’re getting maximum (carbo-loading) pleasure at a cheap price.

Generally, there are two kinds of satisfaction that we derive from eating. One stems from the fulfilment of a biological need, and the other is from the stimulation of our senses (through taste, aesthetics, etc.).

The unli-rice phenomenon satisfies the former. This is why we go to a place like Mang Inasal when we’re absolutely famished, as opposed to a place like Mamou, which we go to when we want to experience our food.

Tough (and Smart) Men Eat Unli-Rice (Biological Theory)

Ever heard of the phrase “to eat like a construction worker”, or in the vernacular, kaing karpintero? For the unacquainted, it simply means to devour amounts of rice, which are grossly disproportionate to the amount of viand alongside it. It’s quite an inexpensive way to refuel energy reserves.

Carbohydrates, rice in particular, are easily-obtained energy. Our digestive system rapidly breaks them down, and converts them into glucose, which powers up the body along with the brain. And there’s nothing manlier (and sexier) than a man who can do hard labor and flex their intellectual muscles at the same time. In this case, going for unli-rice = unli-masculinity.

For my part, I find it a tad disturbing when a man eats less than I do. Then again, some say I eat like a man. 

“Que Horror” Rice Eater (Psychological Theory)

For some of us, there is nothing more disheartening than having some ulam (viand) left over, and no more rice left to eat it with. So we scramble to replace the rice, lest we get eaten by the glaring void on our plates. This may partly be attributed to our fear of empty space or horror vacui. It’s a design term that entails filling all empty spaces. Thus, we like availing of the unli-rice because it ensures that we will have enough of both the rice and the viand, at least until we’re ready to wipe the whole plate clean.

(Oh, and the next time someone comments on the barrenness of your post-grad apartment, feel free to drop horror vacui on them. That should shut them up.)

Pinoy-Bred Rice Eater (Cultural Theory)

Our food culture comprises Chinese, Malay, Spanish, and other indigenous influences. As a result, it is characterized by a bold combination of sweet, salty, and sour flavors. Popular Pinoy dishes, such as adobo, kare-kare, and tinapa, simply cannot be eaten without rice because of their saucy/salty character. Our constant use of dipping sauces, such as patis (fish sauce) and soy sauce, also amplifies the need for a neutral flavor to soak up and balance all the robust flavors of Filipino cuisine.

Furthermore, we grew up eating rice, and therefore cannot deny its value in our agricultural society. So the next time you ask for your nth serving of rice, think about all the farmers to whom we owe our unli-rice, and polish off every single grain in their honor. While you’re at it, have an extra viand as a tribute to the cross-cultural trade, which developed our cuisine into something that requires unlimited helpings of the glorious carbohydrate.

“Challenge Accepted” Rice Eater (Competition Theory)

There’s something about the words “unlimited rice” or “rice-all-you-can” that taunt us. We may think that it’s just a harmless invitation, a nice gesture even, but no—it’s a form of trickery that restaurants employ to appeal to our competitive nature. It’s restaurant-speak for “Come at me, bro. We’ve got unlimited rice. You hungry enough?” So we go into their premises, thinking we’ve got them owned, but never go beyond four or five servings of rice anyway.

Yet, we continue to buy into these unlimited rice promos for sport. We go with our friends, and wheedle each other into getting more cups of rice. I even know people (myself included) who proclaim the number of rice servings they usually have, as if it were some sort of athletic achievement. We may think of ourselves as victors in this case, nevermind the surplus of unnecessary calories.

In sum, unli-rice is a very successful marketing ploy that panders to a lot of our instincts. It also gives us a perception of abundance, and encourages a lack of restraint.  And let’s be honest, aren’t those what we want out of our eating experience?


What are your thoughts on our unlimited rice obsession?

[images via Wikipedia.org]

Diana Camacho Diana Camacho

Diana Camacho is a perky little energizer bunny whose idea of fun is writing a paper on the Semiotics and Curatorial Aspect of Social Media, or some other pseudo-intellectual subject matter. She is a Karate black belter who randomly says “Hai, Sensei!” by instinct, and a law school nerd who incessantly speaks in pompous law jargon. On the weekends, she plays football as an excuse to eat "recovery food."

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27 comments in this post SHOW

27 responses to “Let Them Eat Rice: Exploring the Pinoy Unli-Rice Obsession”

  1. Natatawa nalang ako sa mga taong gumagawa ng No-Rice Diet. Good luck, guys.

  2. To a certain extent guilty of the “challenge accepted” mentality. While I am not proud of it, I was once the top rice eater in my former job. My colleagues were both horrified and amused at how I could eat 5 cups of rice with my PM2. Kahit mababaw na chievement, proud ako dun.

    But in our family, my kuya is still the undisputed champion. He once ate 7 cups at KFC. (probably turned them into gravy lugaw too)

  3. Bene Barbin says:

    I just remembered we had a conversation about kaing karpentero the last time we saw each other. Looks like you were doing some “research” at the time.

  4. It just doesn’t feel right eating without rice 😐

  5. Arthur says:

    I do not see this as obsession as much as the indians/pakis love their naan; or the arabs love their khobs. Of all the theories presented, the most logical for me is the Cultural Theory.

    Btw, this should include the ‘Dukha Theory’. Simple lang: maraming mahirap, mura ang kanin kesa ulam. 😀

  6. Ron Digao says:

    Good job Diane. Kahit dito sa NY lagi pa rin ako naghahanap ng kanin eh. I think the longest I can go without rice is 3 days kasi mga roommates ko lahat kaya hindi kumain ng kanin.

  7. I enjoy going to restaurants that serve unli rice because I like telling myself “they chose a bad day to be open.” Looking forward to more articles from you 🙂

  8. […] Posted on May 29, 2013 by masalaegg During a recent lunch gathering in India, the conversation steered to the Filipino diet and why my relatives are generally slimmer than the average Indian of the same age. Leaving aside genetics, one guessed that it could be my family’s subsistence on Omega-3 rich fish and seafood in simple preparations. But I hear my aunts’ voices in my head praising the health benefits of Indians’ abundant vegetable and pulses intake and realize we can enumerate both cuisines forever and not have one win over the other in the nutrition battle.   All else equal though, I think India wins when it comes to staples.   The Indian staple is roti, unleavened flatbread made of whole wheat flour, atta. It carries the goodness of all three grain components: bran, germ and endosperm.   The Filipino staple is white rice, stripped of protein- and fibre-rich bran and germ.    Wash rice twice and dump equal quantities of it and water into the rice cooker. A few swirls of the wrist, that’s all it takes to make rice.   One needs a little more power with roti. The full arm swings into motion as one kneads atta and water into a soft dough, roll balls of it into flat rounds, and cast it into a pan. Mothers do this workout every single day.    I tried making the stuffed version, paratha, as it doesn’t demand as much precision and flatness as roti. Even then it seems it will take more than once to get it right. So I am monitoring my progress with my very own PPI (Paratha Perfection Index), a composite of softness, roundness and taste ratings from 1-10, 10 being the highest.   For my first attempt,      Softness     2      Roundness 6      Taste          5            PPI           4.33 Ok my arms are tired now. Give me some unli rice and chorizo!   *unli – unlimited. If you intend to open a roadside restaurant in the Philippines without offering unli rice, you will fail. A food blogger explores the Pinoy unli rice obsession. […]

  9. […] Posted on April 9, 2013 by masalaegg During a recent lunch gathering in India, the conversation steered to the Filipino diet and why my relatives are generally slimmer than the average Indian of the same age. Leaving aside genetics, one guessed that it could be my family’s subsistence on Omega-3 rich fish and seafood in simple preparations. But I hear my aunts’ voices in my head praising the health benefits of Indians’ abundant vegetable and pulses intake and realize we can enumerate both cuisines forever and not have one win over the other in the nutrition battle. All else equal though, I think India wins when it comes to staples. The Indian staple is roti, unleavened flatbread made of whole wheat flour, atta. It carries the goodness of all three grain components: bran, germ and endosperm. The Filipino staple is white rice, stripped of protein- and fibre-rich bran and germ. Wash rice twice and dump equal quantities of it and water into the rice cooker. A few swirls of the wrist, that’s all it takes to make rice. One needs a little more power with roti. The full arm swings into motion as one kneads atta and water into a soft dough, roll balls of it into flat rounds, and cast it into a pan. Mothers do this workout every single day. I tried making the stuffed version, paratha, as it doesn’t demand as much precision and flatness as roti. Even then it seems it will take more than once to get it right. So I am monitoring my progress with my very own PPI (Paratha Perfection Index), a composite of softness, roundness and taste ratings from 1-10, 10 being the highest. For my first attempt,      Softness     2      Roundness 6      Taste          5      PPI           4.33 Ok my arms are tired now. Give me some unli rice and chorizo! *unli – unlimited. If you intend to open a roadside restaurant in the Philippines without offering unli rice, you will fail. A food blogger explores the Pinoy unli rice obsession. […]

  10. […] have flocked for  generations to their neighborhood bakeries or panaderia. Rice might be the undisputed favorite carbohydrate in our country, but we’ll always have a soft spot for the cheap, fragrant buns in those glass […]

  11. JM Vida says:

    Just a question – is the “kaing karpintero” moniker more of a compliment or an insult? Hindi ko alam if matutuwa ako or maaasar ako e. Hehe

    • D Camacho says:

      Personally, I don’t think of it as an insult. But that’s just me, I like the fact that I eat like a man. :)) I can’t speak for carpenters out there though. haha

    • Tanya says:

      ang sinasabi naman ng tatay ko was, “anlakas kumain ng kuya mo o.. kaing construction worker na naman! magkakamada pa yan ng hollowblocks kaya ganyan”..

  12. […] the fact that Filipino cuisine (i.e. ulam) is simply meant to be eaten with rice (and other similar theories), there are some of us who rely solely on rice for everyday sustenance due to economic […]

  13. […] have flocked for  generations to their neighborhood bakeries or panaderia. Rice might be the undisputed favorite carbohydrate in our country, but we’ll always have a soft spot for the cheap, fragrant buns in those glass […]

  14. Tanya says:

    And I have this feeling.. alam kong mali as far as dieting is concerned: Pag walang kanin, hindi kain. Ang bad no?

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