Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Rice Ball By Any Other Name, Part One

Ahhhhhh, there they are.
My sons are made of rice balls.

In all fairness, they are made of rice balls, humus and ice cream from a long-gone but locally famous ice cream joint, Karl Droge in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.

During my pregnancies, I had very similar and specific eating patterns.

Living where I did, there were, of course, many menus and countless ethnicities from which to choose but it was pretty simple as far as I was concerned: rice balls, humus and ice cream....the holy trinity of soft carbs.

And 26 years later, I still like to tell people it's baby weight....

First, I'd hit the streets. 

Rain or shine, I'd drag myself to my favorite pizzeria where Sal (the dark one) would spot me from about a half block away and tell Tony (the light one) to start heating up my rice ball with a little sauce on the side.
They were much bigger at Karl Droge.

Bliss on so many levels...the pizzeria was home away from home, a place where I was pampered by two handsome guys who worried if I missed a day and didn't charge me for my lunch when I showed up in labor one afternoon. 

I knew I wouldn't be eating for a while and I figured a rice ball was the perfect thing to sustain me through hours of childbirth. I was right. In fact, a good rice ball can sustain you for a day or two.

On weekends, because it was just a few blocks too far for a preggo to waddle, we'd drive to Karl Droge for soft serve. With sprinkles.

Not rainbow. Chocolate.

Fran or her husband, Al (who made bigger cones...sometimes we'd drive around the block until Fran stepped into the back and her husband took command of the window) would angle the wafer cone just so and, with faces as serious as Robert Oppenheimer working on nuclear equations, would build a swirl of vanilla soft serve into a towering, rippled masterpiece roughly the size of Marie Antoinette's Sunday wig--handing it proudly through the window and into my swollen hands.

Once the boys were born, we'd take them, as early as a few months old, and show them off at Karl Droge, placing tiny dabs of vanilla ice cream into their mouths.

In fact, when the plastic spoon clicked against it, it was how I discovered Tommy had his first little toothie at three months. Fran shared my excitement. Al, who wore his jet black hair pomaded into a retro 50's pompadour--not unlike the swirls of the ice cream he dispensed, now that I think of it --couldn't have cared less.

He may have given bigger cones but he wasn't exactly a people person.
This is not Al. It's Johnny Cash. But Al had hair very much like this.
Humus, and all foods Middle Eastern, rounded out the menu. The star of my craving was lemony, cumin-y, tangy humus which, for some odd reason, would put me to sleep soon after eating (it still does). As the months passed and my girth and crankiness-to-niceness ratio increased, Seth would encourage trips to our favorite restaurant because he knew my whining would be silenced by a vegetarian combo platter.

Karl Droge is long gone. Humus is available everywhere (and even from little plastic tubs in the supermarket, is delicious) but rice balls are another story.

Once you leave an urban area, rice balls are hard to come by which is an argument, in itself, for never leaving the city. I have spent the past two decades trying to find one that lives up to the fluffy-on-the-inside, crusty-on-the-outside ball of wonder that Tony used to slide, on a paper plate, across the formica counter with a shy smile.

Read about my quest for rice balls and what I discovered about them in tomorrow's existential conclusion of "A Riceball by Any other Name."
Better than Ambien: humus, falafel, grape leaves, baba ghanoush and tabouli.


  1. and here's me, in happy ignorance from the other side of the world - completely unaware that rice had balls... no wonder they are hard to find...

  2. Oh, Janet...I needed a laugh this morning--thank you. I know---they are very, very tiny. Very hard to find.

  3. they are hard to come by here in the suburbs of NYC as well....you only really can find them around Easter

  4. Isn't that a shame, Lisa? Rice balls should be available everywhere. I should not have to make them myself!!! Thanks for stopping by!

  5. Mrs. Szold, I grew up eating arancini (riceballs) every New Year's Day — my favorite holiday just because of that. My nonna (grandmother) taught us how to make them last year — so much work! But very, very worth it. Definitely my favorite food in the entire world, I didn't know anyone else thought so too!

  6. Steff, arancini (I knew that word!) are pure comfort food....and when the outer crust is just right, it's heaven in a ball. And they are a lot of work...bet you can't find any anywhere in DC.