Friday, 28 March 2014

Parched Rice and Balls!



                On many illustrations of Viet Cong or NVA soldiers you can see them wearing a tube-like item that resembles a thin blanket roll. This would be made of silk, cotton or even from a bicycle inner tube and carried the fighter’s rice ration. Some books I have read claim this was a month’s ration but it is more likely to be about a week’s, for reasons I will explain.

            During a conversation with a friend the other night the topic of rations came up and I found myself trying to locate some information on how much rice an NVA/VC ate in a day. When I cook rice I measure out a 100ml volume in a jug, which is about 100gms. If I am honest this is often more rice than I need. I had a recollection that I had read that the NVA ration was 190gms. That is a lot of rice but credible when you consider a fighter was carrying a heavy load, moving long distances over rough terrain and may have been short of the meat and vegetables I bulk up my meal with. The book I had read the 190gm figure in is no longer available on line, and it is quite possible my recollection is wrong. I did come across another source that indicated that the monthly allowance of rice for a fighter was 20kg. No way that those tubes hold 20kg of rice.

            Surprisingly little good information could be found on line about the VC rations. Some sources tell us fighters were given four cans of fish and nine rice balls, but with no indication as to how long this was intended to last. Some sources claim that the rice carried was either “parched” or pre-cooked. Carrying a week or more’s worth of pre-cooked rice in a jungle environment sounds rather impractical unless the rice has been thoroughly dried after cooking. While much of the VC’s food was portaged in from the north they also took food from local sources and rice from here would have most likely been uncooked. Sources talk about VC eating cold rice balls in the morning or while on the move but also mention a detail of the unit being tasked with cooking rice when the unit halted for the night. What seems probable was that each night enough rice was cooked for the hot evening meal and for the cold rations to be consumed on the next day. The cooked rice not eaten that night was formed into rice balls for ease of handling. These balls were often formed around a small piece of fish or meat. I also encountered mention of raisins being placed in a rice ball, although this was by an American unit that had adapted to eating rice balls since they were lighter than C-rats.

            This diet of canned fish and rice was supplemented by any fresher food that was encountered. Edible leaves were a welcome addition and fruit such as wild oranges much prized. While the VC ration was not particularly nutritionally balanced and a bit monotonous the VC and NVA soldiers were generally well fed, unlike the ARVN soldiers who were often poorly supplied by their logistic forces.

            Did the VC use “parched rice”? I don’t know, but given the frequent mention of rice being formed into balls it seems likely most of the rice carried was uncooked rice that was boiled. Interestingly, you can parch rice and it is rather simple to do. It makes an interesting alternative to pinole.

            I had a go at parching some rice last night using my wok. I cooked it to a light brown colour so I knew it was cooked sufficiently. I think I used a shade more oil than I needed but the result was not unpleasant. It is kind of crunchy, a bit like trying to eat the unpopped bits of popcorn. As you may expect if you have ever tried pinole, it is rather filling. I made a bowl of the stuff and most of it is still uneaten, even though this was all I had for dinner last night.