Have you ever questioned how rice is grown? Or what is the different between brown rice and white rice? I often receive those questions from travelers – especially when passing by a rice paddy, or whenever we see a famer working on a flooded rice field during my journeys across Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Here is all you need to know about rice and the making of this staple food, which makes up this region.
First of all, the truth about the brown rice and white rice is that – they are basically the same rice! Yes, brown rice is the grain with just the first layer of husk removed by milling or husking, while the white rice is that grain with the husk, bran and germ layers removed. Therefore, white rice contains less nutrients and fiber than brown rice. Even though, our people consume more white rice as it is often softer to eat.
SO HOW RICE IS GROWN?
Well there are basically six steps that farmers in Southeast Asia are following to grow their rice, they are explained with photos as below:
Step 1: Prepare the Pre-germination
To grow 01ha (2,5ac) of rice paddy field, they need to prepare 50kg (110lbs) of seed. Rice grains from a previous harvest are first soaked in water for 24 hours, during this time they stir the seeds to discard those that float on the surface. Then the seeds are drained and kept in moist jute sack for incubation, that results in uniform pre-germination within 3 days.
During this few days of pre-germination, the farmers allot 1kg (2,2lbs) seed for each 10m2 (108 ft2) seedbed. While waiting for the pre-germination, farmers prepare the seedbed for the sowing.
Step 2: Sow the Pre-Germinated Seeds and Nurse the Seedlings
Sow the pre-germination on the assigned seedbeds, cover the seedbeds with nylon to keep the seedling warm when the weather is cold. After being nursed for about 25 days, the seedlings are ready to be transplanted on the rice paddy fields.
Step 3: Ploughing and Harrowing the Field
Since the previous harvest, the paddy fields are ploughed and kept dry naturally. When preparing a new crop, the famers will flood their paddy fields with the water from irrigations. When the fields are all flooded, the farmers will harrow them to break clumps, to mix fertilizer with the soil, to smooth and level the surface so that the soft mud would then accept the rice seedlings easily.
Step 4: Transplanting the Rice
Now the farmers go back to the seedbeds to pull the seedlings for transplanting. You have probably seen a group of villagers gathered in a long row across one paddy field, each carrying a handful of rice seedlings – that’s when they are transplanting rice!
Each time the farmer transplants about 3 seedlings of about 30 days grown seedlings at 15cm by 15cm (6in by 6in) spacing, then step back one step to plant the next row. The uniform spacing increases the yield by 25−40% over improper spacing, and also help with hand weeding, herbicides or insecticides.
Hand transplanting is hard, backbreaking work, but it can be an occasion for singing and enjoying each other as family and community members often work together. They can quickly plant one paddy field in neat, then move on to the next paddy field. Regardless of how hard it is and how much more time for the rice to mature due to transplanting shock, manual transplanting is still commonly practiced as a way of weed control.
Step 5: Weeding and Water Management
Weeding and water management is vital to a good crop and good grain quality, the works of this step may last for nearly three months after transplanting. Weeds should be removed by hand, collected weeds are usually pushed down into the mud or piled on the bunds.
Together with weeding, the farmers maintain a shallow flooding of about 7cm (3in) water to prevent germination of weeds until 7−10 days before harvest. In some areas, herbicides are applied.
Step 6: Harvesting
The crop should be harvested when about 80% of the grains are straw or yellow-colored. Timely harvest is crucial to prevent crop loss, and ensures good grain quality for high market value. Because, too early harvest will result in immature grains and that lowers the yield, while too late harvest will lead to breakage in rice.
The most common way of harvesting in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia is using sickles, however combine harvesters are getting more popular in areas. In mountains areas like Sapa, Luang Prabang or Siem Reap, threshing and mortaring are still practiced. But more commonly, people use husking machines to mill their grain for white or brown rice.
Women or girls are usually seen performing the winnowing the rice after husking, as they are much more skillful and patient than men when it comes to shaking the woven bamboo tray. The proper movement when winnowing helps blow away the lighter husks, while the rice falls to the tray. Most households now eat about 30% of the rice they grow, and sell the rest to the vendors.
When cooking the rice, Laotians soak the rice in the water for 6 hours or overnight before steaming, then they put the soaked and drained rice into a conical like bamboo basket (called houd), and that sits on top of a pot of simmering water. The rice is steamed for 20 minutes, and then instead of stirring the rice, with one skilled shake the rice flips 180 degrees with the rice that was on the top now on the bottom closer to the steam!
To have a memorable rice experience in your Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia Holidays, contact us to create your own itinerary. Our Vietnam Adventure Journey not only covers all the famous sites of Vietnam, but also features engagement with the locals to help you truly immerse in the culture you are visiting.