"The bowl of rice is there."
Translation:Миска риса — там.
I think your sentence is closer to, "there is a bowl of rice there," than it is to, "the bowl of rice is there." From what I've seen so far, my impression is that subjects are more "definite" (like "the") when placed near the front of a sentence and more "indefinite" (like "a" or "an") when placed near the end.
Yup. Since Russian words can change order in a sentence, words that are giving new information float towards the end and words that have been previously spoken about or that are known float towards the beginning.
Therefore, «там есть миска риса» and «миска риса — там» imply two different things: the former implies that the bowl of rice is new information and that it is “there”, wherever that may be, and the latter implies that the bowl of rice already exists and/or is being talked about and that its location is new information. Itʼs worth noting, too, that the word «есть» implies the existence of something that wasnʼt previously known to exist, so one could also say, «там — миска риса» where the bowl of rice is known to already exist, but either itʼs being brought up in conversation when it hasnʼt been previously mentioned or the location (там) is the most recent bit of information.
You will also see sentences like «у него кошка» where the «есть» has been omitted. This is because the existence of the cat is already known, but its ownership is being expressed. This might translate as “he has the cat”, as opposed to «у него есть кошка», which would translate as “he has a cat”.
This is why «есть» must come before what itʼs describing: whatever is being stated as existing is necessarily newer information than whatever comes before «есть» since it must be new to the conversation for you to even be using «есть» in the first place!
Чашка риса - там is rejected. Is it because чашка is too small to be a bowl? Would "Чаша риса - там" work? Awkward?
I was surprised to see no reference to "чай" in the Wiktionary etymology for чашка (or чаша), which I was assuming was related... (tricked by Japanese, again, where the common word for a bowl, even for rice, is chawan/茶碗, originally meaning something to drink tea from).