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Mosaic Theater
Michael Twitty Wants You to Know a Bit More About Rice
April 22 – May 05, 2021
ghana crab stew

Before the pandemic, Michael Twitty found himself visiting Ghanaian chop bars in his travels around Ghana. As he watched people chopping onions and peppers by hand, he reflected on his own grandmother and culinary upbringing. He also saw — nearly everywhere he went — a pot of rice,  a dish that’s come to define part of his culinary career.

Twitty’s new book, Rice, links the proliferation of rice across the South to its African origins. Recognizing the ubiquity of rice in Asia, Latin America, and other parts of the world, Twitty doesn’t claim Africans invented rice; instead, he presents a forgotten and often ignored history of African influence in how rice is cultivated, prepared, and served throughout the South and the world. 

“It has so often been told, much like barbecue and other areas of our food culture, that we're [Black Americans] tertiary, we're not primary,” said Twitty. “And I think it's still important that people realize that, that's not how this goes — that we're the center of this history.”

Twitty’s Rice is part of a University of North Carolina Press series that recognizes the history and influence of Southern ingredients like pecans, okra, crabs, and oysters. It also reminds readers that rice, as we know it in the South, is inextricably linked to the agricultural and culinary contributions of enslaved Africans.

“The most important thing for me was to show the kinship between two sides of the ocean and the dishes that resulted from the forced migration of Africans, as well as the resistance of those Africans to assimilation — the drive to maintain our culture and our history around food,” says Twitty. He illuminates dishes like red rice, a Southern favorite that can be traced directly to West Africa, and gumbo, introduced here by enslaved Africans.

Recognizing the global uses and production of rice, Twitty describes “the dance” rice takes in dishes around the world: with chicken in perloo, with Vietnamese herbs in cơm tấm, and with beans in Haitian cuisine.

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