Can a grain just eight millimeters long help us understand Asian American culture?
Rice farmer Robin Koda and wheat farmer Mai Nguyen join chef and cookbook author Diep Tran for a conversation about the complex role of rice in the formation of Asian Americana. In popular culture, rice plays many roles, from a crop that symbolizes the ingenuity, thrift, and resilience of Asian American farmers to a food that represents Asian American cuisine as a whole. We’ll explore the many narratives of rice and consider if these stories expand, or narrow, our understanding of Asian American culture.
Robin Koda grew up on the family farm, walking paddy levees to find birds’ nests and catch crayfish. Today, as a co-owner/operator of the oldest rice farm and mill in California, she often shares the nuances and richly storied history of rice, rooted in familial ties. Keisaburo Koda, Robin’s grandfather, immigrated from Japan in 1908, and earned acclaim in California as the “Rice King.” The forced relocation and imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II resulted in the loss of the family’s land, processing plant, equipment, and homes. Nevertheless, they persevered, rebuilding and expanding their product lines after the war. Approaching its centennial, Koda Farms maintains a robust legacy of commitment to high-quality food production.
Diep Tran comes from a family of restaurateurs and chefs. She has been a longtime advocate for workers’ rights in the restaurant industry. She is the founder of the Banh Chung Collective, an annual queer-centric celebration of the Lunar New Year. Most recently, she co-authored “The Red Boat Fish Sauce Cookbook,“ one of NPR’s 2021 Books We Love. She is currently the R&D chef for Red Boat Fish Sauce. She has been featured in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Lucky Peach, Saveur, the Netflix series “Ugly Delicious,“ KCET’s “Migrant Kitchen,“ and HBOMax’s “Take Out with Lisa Ling.“