RICE

Rice is such an integral part of Thai culture of eating that everything else revolves around it. The main occupation for Thais outside of the main centers is rice farming, spending their entire lives dedicated to the cultivation of this most important grain. The finest grains graces the table of the wealthy, it is a staple for the middle class and forms the backbone at the table for the poorest. Everything else is designed to be eaten together with it and without rice, every dish, however elaborate or exquisite, becomes meaningless and incomplete. This is the reason that all of the savory dishes are called ‘gub khao’ which directly translates to 'with rice'.

Rice is the main source of food, and has been for centuries, Thais are taught to have tremendous respect and appreciate the value of every single of rice since a very young age. From primary school to high school, a nutritious lunch is supplied for the students, consisting of an aluminum tray with indentations for, curry, a stir fried dish, a soup, a dessert and the precious rice. Before eating, they would recite a poem in appreciation of the food they were about to eat. Giving thanks the the farmers that worked so hard for every grain with every drop of their sweat. When finished eating, a teacher sit by the door to inspect the plate to make sure that no rice or food is left over and wasted. This is the level of respect that has been instilled  in student all over the country.

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In the water there are fish, in the field there is rice.
— KING RAMA II REIGN 1809-1824
 
 

PREPARING THE SOIL / ไถนา

Ploughing is the first step in rice cultivation. In the past a buffalo carries out this task, with the farmer holding the wooden plough into the soil. It is a long and labour intensive process. Nowadays large tractors can plough a rice field in a fraction of the time of the traditional method. Far removed from the special bond between the farmer and his faithful buffalo of the past, something intrinsic to the ancient process slowly fades. 

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PLANTING / ดำนา

There are three main methods of planting rice. The first is drilling, used in drier areas, a small hole is dug and 3-5 seeds are put into each hole. The second method is by transplanting, used in wet muddy soils, sprouted seedlings are transplanted into the wet paddy, such back braking work. The third method involves sowing seeds into the fields after ploughing, this method can be used with dry as well as wet soil conditions.

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GROWTH / เจริญเติบโต

As the rice grows to maturity, side shoots are produced and the plant quickly multiplies until the entire field is packed full of lush green rice plants. The rice takes approximately 150 days to mature, by which time it will turn a golden hue and heavy with plump grains. A wet rice paddy is teeming with life, creating its own eco system, home to various spices of fresh water fish, frogs and insects.

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HARVEST / เก็บเกี่ยวข้าว

Harvest time usually occurs 1 month after the tiny rice flowers  are pollinated. The rice grains becomes plump, heavy and golden in colour. A sickle is still used for harvest, while larger scale plantations employ a commercial harvester. Rice harvested by hand is tied in manageable bundles and kept in a small barn made of wood and palm leaves as roofing material. Often raised high up from ground level to deter animals and pests from accessing the newly harvested rice.

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THRESHING / ฟาดข้าว

The traditional method of removing the precious rice grains from their stems is still practiced today. Rice bundles are attached to a stick and it is flung up high into the air and comes down to hit the ground with force, dislodging the golden rice into mounds on the hardened bare earth. It is tiring work, the farmers are covered head to toe in protective clothing, from the large amount of dust that is in the air.

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POUNDING RICE / ตำข้าว

Before pounding, small amounts of  rice is removed from storage, it is then laid out in the sun to remove any excess moisture.Pounding the rice removes the husk and exposes the rice grain in all its glory. A large pestle and mortar made from a hollowed out tree trunk is used together with a foot operated mortar or one that is operated by hand. Only a small amount of rice can be processed using this very simple method.

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WINNOWING / ฝัดข้าว

A large round, flat basket made from woven bamboo is filled with a small amount pounded rice. A tossing motion lifts the heavy grains of rice into the air and falls back down into the basket, while the lighter husks gets blown away by wind and falls onto the ground. This very simple technique dates back to the rice plantations in ancient egypt. A majority of harvested rice now goes through a commercial milling process for speed and efficiency

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CLEARING THE LAND / เคลียร์ดิน

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The Siamese, in cooking their rice, wash it four or five times, and place it in a pot or kettle filled with water: after boiling about three minutes, the water is poured out, the pot is placed upon a slow fire, there the rice is steamed without being burnt: its flavour is preserved; the different grains do not adhere to one another, or stick to the fingers when eaten. Rice is used by the poor as an aliment of life; by the opulent, as an accompaniment to their meals.
— Bowring 1855
 

Cooking rice is truly an art form in itself, it is something that needs to be perfected with years of practice and experience. A good cook is not complete until he or she has mastered the art of cooking rice. In the past rice was cooked in earthenware pots. over burning embers. An old method of filing the pot with twice the amount of water to the amount of rice was used. Once it comes to the boil, the cook would spoon out the rice to check the degree of doneness. It is at this. point when any excess water is poured out, lid placed back on and the pot os left over a low heat for a further ten minutes. This method is called 'hoong khao yang rin nahm ting' Some say that it yields that that is far superior to the modern method, but it is now rarely practice.

 What makes it so difficult are the many variables that exist such as, variety, quality and age of the rice. The intended use for the rice also needs to be taken into account in selecting the type of rice, as well as the specific method of cooking. Each household will have their own preference as to the variety and age. But even though you follow a recipe exactly, it still doesn't guarantee perfectly cooked rice every single time. It all boils down to something that can't be learned from any recipe books, intuition. 

Wash the rice three times in cold water, gently combing your hands through it, this removes any excess starch and any impurities, dirt or dust that may be in the rice. Place the rice in a pot or rice cooker cover with cold water ( the traditional way of measuring the amount of water is to place your index finger on the surface of the rice, and the water should come up to the first join of your index finger ) Place the lid on, bring to the boil, or turn on your rice cooker, simmer slowly for ten minutes and take it of the heat. Leave the lid on for a further ten minutes, allowing the rice to steam. The resulting rice should have doubled in size and become soft and fluffy.

The invention of the modern day rice cooker made the everyday activity of cooking rice much easier. SImply wash the rice a couple of times and the the required amount of water, place the lid on, press the cook button and within 20 minutes the rice will be perfectly cooked and kept warm, ready for eating.

 

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