Posts Tagged With: Rice

The life of rice.

If you want to understand Asia, you need to understand rice. But I realized that as many lusciously green rice fields as I’ve seen this year, I know nothing of how it’s grown. So I asked Heifer’s own Mr. Tham for a rice tutorial.

First, a little background: Rice is a cereal grain, the world’s 2nd largest staple crop, 12,000 years old, and responsible for providing 1/5 of the world’s calories. It’s a labor intensive crop (to say the least) and demands high rainfall, as fields are flooded to reduce pests and weeds, while or after young seedings are “set.”

Rice planting starts with letting the seed rest –as Tham put it, “at least 2 weeks of sleep after drying.” Then the seed can be planted either by throwing it directly onto the soil; or soaking it in water for 24 hours, rinsing and placing in a container to germinate in bulk for 48 hours, then casting the tiny young sprouts in the rice field and letting them grow for 20 days before transplanting. I have to say that I didn’t quite understand the transplanting deal, but when a rice plant is fully submerged, apparently you have to dig it up and transplant it to deeper fields. Which is really an insane amount of work.

Transferring seedlings.

As the seedling grows up, the very important arching protective leaf becomes mature, and the stalk develops many flowers inside. 30 days later the flowers blossom and male pollen fertilizes the flowers with the help of wind pollination. Every flower becomes a seed, and these rice kernels grow to fill the husk, become mature, turn golden yellow, and then the rice is ripe and ready to harvest.

Leaf, bud, full kernel.

At this point the rice is cut and bound into 10 kilo bundles, stacked and threshed.

Threshing rice by the side of the road.

The rice straw is blown out into big piles (we’ll get back to that later) and the empty seed husks collected, while the brown rice kernels are placed in big 50-kilo bags.

That’s a heavy load.

This unmilled rice, or paddy, is dried until it only has about 12% humidity (a farmer can tell when it’s ready by cracking it with his teeth), then either taken to a polishing mill where the germ and remaining chaff are removed, or stored for home use (or put down for a little nap and replanted). Polished white rice lasts longer than brown rice, but the brown is more nutritious, as I’ve told my unpersuaded children for years.

White is nice, but brown is better. (You’ll never win this argument in Cambodia or Vietnam.. or my house).

Because people in developing countries are masters of using every single thing for good, the rice by-products are never thrown away. Rice straw is used to raise mushrooms, feed cattle, cook with, make thatched roofs or dusters, mixed with mud for stucco, for handicrafts and paper, as bedding for poultry, and to mulch fields.

Green gold – rice straw.

Rice husks are used as fuel, in ash as potassium fertilizer, as a medium to raise mung bean shoots, to make artificial wood, or mixed with sand and cement to make roads. And just to complete the righteous recycling circle, when people aren’t using their rice fields to raise a crop, they use them to raise fish and ducks.

Lotus, fish, ducks – in the off-season, a rice paddy is a versatile thing!

So the next time you tuck into a big bowl of rice (Wild Rice Thanksgiving stuffing??), think of all these beautiful people around the world, working so hard to raise it.

And enjoy!!!

My tutor, Heifer’s Mr. Tham, loves his rice.



Categories: Agriculture, Farming, Food, Photography, Travel, Vietnam | Tags: , , , , , , , | 30 Comments

What I ate in Haiti.

Fresh whole fried tilapia from Lake Peligre .. caught that morning!

Actually, maybe we should start with what I drank in Haiti because that’s certainly where I always start (and end). I’m not even sure it’s appropriate to talk about food & drink on a blog about ending hunger and poverty with Heifer International but enough people seem to be curious about what I’m consuming that I’m indulging myself in this post. (Please feel free to tell me you think I’m a shallow bore if you feel like it.)

Alcohol is not hard to find in Haiti but it is expensive (really expensive – like $12 for a gin & tonic at a hotel). Ordering wine is a total crapshoot– tried it once and it was SO not worth it– so you’re probably well-advised to stick to beer.

The real Real Thing.

Prestige was yummy (and I don’t even like beer) at a mere $3/bottle (as opposed to the exorbitant $4.50 they were charging for Coca-Cola). However, the Coke was fantastic because it’s made with cane sugar syrup instead of the high-fructose corn stuff … and believe me, it makes a difference.

Coffee was thick, black & superb everywhere (my personal heaven). Fruit juices were equally amazing … absolutely fresh, and in flavors like mango, watermelon, papaya and grapefruit (to which Haitians add heaping spoonfuls of sugar, but I liked it tart enough to make you pucker).

Haitian grapefruit

If you like the food you are served on your first day in Haiti, you’re a lucky duck – because you’re likely to get that same dish at least once a day for the rest of your stay.

Here’s what it will consist of: a meat or fish (leg and thigh of chicken, beef, lambi– or conch, goat, or a whole tilapia fried with its head and tail still on) ; plantains fried in whatever; a few tomato slices that are no better than our grocery store models; and local rice (if you’re unlucky) with black beans.

Yeah, it's local.

Rice is ubiquitous in Haiti –which makes it all the more sad that we’ve just about killed off the rice industry  in the country with dirt-cheap imports from Arkansas that cost about ½ what the Haitian farmers can produce it for in their own fields. Unfortunately, local rice, even though I was trying super hard to like it, is not nearly as delicious as the imported kind  – (and I’ve never found a starch I didn’t like).

The creole sauce that is served on virtually everything is delicious; and the faux-kimchee ferociously hot cabbage slaw is similarly gorgeous – crunchy, fresh and so piquant I’m pretty sure no bacteria could survive in there so I ate a lot of it.

Every once in a while when I got desperate for something different, I’d opt for spaghetti bolognese which was always on the menu, but I was ashamed of myself in the morning.

Cashews and nuts are everywhere in the north; and in the south you can find fudge, just like at the Jersey Shore … but no, Snooki, it’s actually totally different.

Making douce macoss fudge

Making fudge (Note the tire/holder!)

Haitian fudge is striped with pink, like taffy, and made with what I am sure is child labor — but it tastes more like halvah in that sandy/sweet way than the chocolatey-buttery fudge of my childhood.

Speaking of sweets, there aren’t many in Haiti. The only chocolate fix I got was hitting my M&M stash hidden in my suitcase. Desserts were completely resistible, because I’m lactose-intolerant and can’t have ice cream, so that made it easy to say no.

Most importantly, despite the fact that Haitians have the lowest caloric intake in the Americas and 25-40% of Haitian children suffer from chronic malnutrition, we were never served a single meal but with total graciousness and generosity.

Making our gorgeous fish lunch in Lake Peligre.

By the time I left Haiti, I was sad to go but ready for a giant salad, a frosty cocktail, and a bar of chocolate.

Which oddly enough, didn’t taste as good as I thought they would.

I kinda missed Prestige.

Categories: Food, Haiti, Heifer International, Hunger, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 54 Comments

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