Rice by any name | Inquirer Opinion
Human Face

Rice by any name

/ 05:20 AM September 06, 2018

There is no rice shortage? Okay, a rice crisis then. No need for the government officials to do cartwheels, antics and maneuvers to deflect people’s attention from the rice mess. It is real and you know it.

I did a piece on the 1995 rice crisis when regular rice was P20 per kilo, too expensive for the poorest of the poor. Now it is from P50 to P80.


“Marami ka pang bigas na kakainin” (You’re going to have to eat a lot of rice yet) is a Filipino saying that means one has a long way to go. Rice will get you there yet, in other words. But how, when there is little or none that is cheap enough for the very poor?

The street militants’ cry of yesteryears, “Bigas, hindi bala”  (rice, not bullets) is again so apt for now, and you bloody know why. That cry rang out during the Marcos dictatorship when ricefields became battlefields and peasants suspected of helping rebels were strafed and tortured.


This rice crisis season, I often think of the many names of rice in the Philippine languages I know and the images they bring forth. It is a good exercise psychologically and culturally. They conjure up images of the past, of one’s childhood, summers, fiestas and times of plenty, of peasants and revolutions, of the simple folk, the countryside and its beauty, of hunger, hope and humanity.

When something holds an important place in the local culture, it is given many names. These names could refer to its various forms, the different stages in its life, the end products. They could refer to quality, consistency, strength, age, beauty.

To save on modifiers, people coin words to describe precisely what the thing is like. Farmers have a jargon all their own to describe the stages in the growth of plants, the ripening of fruits, the seasons. Fishermen should have theirs, too, for the wind, the weather and the waves.

We are a rice-growing nation (are we still?) and we have many names for rice — not rice varieties like “milagrosa,” “wag-wag,” “dinorado,” “malagkit” and NFA’s cheap imported weevil-infested rice. I mean the various names we use to refer to rice in its various stages of growth, its forms and outcomes when cooked.

We don’t simply say uncooked rice, cooked rice or porridge (“hindi lutong bigas” or “lugaw na bigas”). We don’t say unmilled rice or milled rice (“hindi pa nagiling na palay” or “nagiling na palay”). We have precise terms for all of these in the hundreds of Philippine languages and dialects. No need for adjectives, one word is enough.

Here is a list of remembered Filipino words that refer to rice. Words in parentheses are in Hiligaynon (spoken by Ilonggos). As you go through the list, think of their equivalent in your own dialect. Think of your own life. What do you remember, hunger or plenty?

Palay (humay)– the rice plant


Palay (humay)– unmilled or unhusked rice grains

Palay (pasi)– stray unhusked rice found in milled rice

Bigas (bugas)– milled rice

Binlid (binlod)– fine, cracked rice grains

Kanin (kan-on)– cooked rice

Bahaw – day-old rice

Tutong (dukut)– burned rice at the bottom of the pot

Lugaw – rice porridge

Pinipig – pressed rice crispies

Ampaw – puffed rice

Ipa (upa)– rice husk

Darak – rice bran

Am – boiled rice water fed to infants

Hugas-bigas – rice water

Buro – fermented rice (a Pampanga concoction)

Tapuy – rice wine of the Igorots

There are also hundreds of names for different rice recipes (using the sticky variety) in different regions. To name a few: “palitaw” in the Tagalog region, “tupig” in Ilocos, “ibus” in the Visayas, “pinuso” in Bicol. Coconut is their tried and tested partner.

The rice crisis has brought to the fore the significant place this grain occupies in our culture. We are what we eat, the saying goes. A staple and main source of energy, rice is very much part of who we are. So when its price becomes out of reach of poor Filipinos, the country is in trouble. It is also something very culturally upsetting.

A refrain one hears at the base of the socioeconomic triangle says it all: “Kahit pambili man lang ng bigas.” It pleads. You can’t properly translate that into English. Forget the “ulam” or “sud-an” (side dish). Rice, only rice.

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TAGS: Human Face, Ma. Ceres P. Doyo, rice crisis, Rice shortage, Rice supply
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