Rice, Not Only But Also
Rice, Not Only But Also
To be honest I have never really been a big fan of rice. I ate it because it was there and always prefered the taste of potatoes. It is all in the upbringing I suppose. I ate rice...curry and rice was great and curry and chips did not really sit that well. Rice pudding was always good, especially if cooked by my mother or it came out of an 'Ambrosia' tin. Given the choice though I was always more likely to go for the alternative.
Then I started travelling.
I moved out from Turkey and into India and then on into South East Asia. It was one big adventure and in many different ways. One of the first things I discovered was how people could really make a mess of cooking potatoes so increasingly I moved to rice. It is somehow easier to be less judgemental with the unfamiliar.
Wow! Rice really was different when cooked by the experts. So many varieties too and different ways to prepare and to serve it. Much to my surprise I found that good rice, prepared properly was preferable to any potato I had ever eaten anywhere.
Somewhere North of Chiang Mai
We were travelling along a very muddy, bumpy excuse for a road in Northern Thailand. The oblective was to reach a rafting centre and pass quickly down the white water of the river.
Our guide spoke excellent English and pointed out sights of interest. These include the waving meadows of green rice which cascaded down the slopes of the mountain to our right.
Rice? I had never seen rice growing like this. I had seen rice terraces in Indonesia and in the Philippines but never like this. Yes he said...this is mountain rice, quite different to that which one is familiar with in the flooded pans.
Seeing my interest he went on to tell me more.
It is not just Rice but also
Rice planting takes place during the rainy season. Without the rain there can be no rice through most of the areas it is grown, it needs water. Those lucky enough to be a river or lake can pump it up into the paddies but for most of Asia rain is absolutely essential for traditional culture. Surprisingly then Rice can get away without being flooded.
Although automated planters are now available they are happily way outside the budget of the average Asian Rice farmer. Why happily? Because planting the rice is labour intensive and brings the community together. One family group of farmers helps another family group of farmers acting almost like a cooperative to get the task done. They sing, they chat, they joke, they flirt, they eat and drink together all the while working very hard.
Rice does not grow alone
The flooded paddies and green growing shoots attract grasshoppers and locusts. These are caught daily and provide a rich and tasty source of protein. The catching of such small creatures is usually done by the children of the family. Family ties grow stronger as a result as children become 'providers' too.
The huge expanses of water attract frogs which come down to sing, mate and spawn in the paddies. The frogs feed on the grasshoppers too. In their turn the frogs are captured as well. They too make a delicious snack or a meal when fried.
The frogs and their tadpoles attract the Giant Water Beetles which feed on them. They too breed in the paddy fields. The Giant Water Beetle is a bit of an aquired taste but are very popular by those who were weaned on them.
Planting Rice in Laos
The Bountiful Harvest
Eventually the rice ripens and the water evaporates or drains away. The juicy grains attract rats. The rats are caught and go onto the menu. The rats attract snakes and the snakes too get eaten.
Eventually the rice is cut bringing family and neighbours together again for the long days in the paddies and to help with the threshing. Children, cousins, relatives return from the city to help out and in turn take some rice home with them. Many of the Bar Girls from Pattaya and Bangkok are Rice Farmers daughters. They leave their glitter and glamour behind and return home and the fields from whence they came...albeit temporarily.
This is the harvest festival without the church. Rejoicing at the bounty. Families spend the evening together eating a communal meal and a treat of Thai Whiskey....which is of course made from rice.
With coarse rice to eat, with water to drink, and my bent arm for a pillow - I have still joy in the midst of all these things.
The Food of Life
The real bounty of rice is not that it is food but that it keeps the families and the community together. A carbohydrate food which provides many sources of protein too. Rice is the food of Life!
Myself, helping to cut the rice. Isaan, Northern Thailand
Edward Lear wrote:
And they bought an Owl, and a useful Cart./And a pound of Rice, and a Cranberry Tart.
Resting in the Rice Paddy. Isaan, Northern Thailand
Cutting Rice in Isaan, Northern Thailand
A final thought
Sadly things are changing. Manufactured fertilizers applied to boost yields of rice have decreased the wildlife which was in an almost symbiotic relationship with the old established farming practices.
Threshing machines are more common now and it won't be long before both planting and cutting will be done by machine.
It will be a sad day for the communities held together by sticky rice.