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A woman sells rice from large bags at a Hanoi outdoor market.

Rice is the most important daily food for most Southeast Asians. It is generally eaten as the centerpiece of every meal. (Photograph by Margery H. Freeman. More about the photograph)

Wherever rice will grow in Southeast Asia, it is grown. Rice is one of the most nutritious and protein-rich grains that humans have domesticated from wild plants.

Here, a woman is selling rice in an outdoor market in Hanoi. The round woven basket in front contains black rice or dark beans for sale. In some Southeast Asian regions, black and red rice varieties are grown. When cooked, white rice is sometimes colored yellow with tumeric in curries or just for the coloring effect. In some rituals, these four colors of of cooked rice symbolize the four cardinal directions (north, south, east, and west), and small amounts are offered to the gods of all the universe.

Women throughout Southeast Asia regularly work in outdoor markets, both as preparers and sellers of food items. Generally, urban women are raised to be skilled merchants and their public role in small business is routine.