Thailand’s Other Rice Crop
A Hand Produced Delicacy
Green (or early) rice is a considered a delicacy in rural Thailand. Green rice production is also a cushion against fluctuating prices in the mainstream rice market.
Green rice must be hand harvested as the young rice plants mature at different rates, a few days or weeks apart. Workers walk through the fields and select plants that are mature enough for processing. The rice is then hand processed using small home mills near the fields, or in the homes of neighbors. Green rice is popular enough with locals, that there are more orders than product. While the income from producing small batches of green rice is not substantial, it provides much needed cash flow before the main rice harvest.
From Seed to Table, a Labor of Love
Green Rice starts by hand selecting seeds suited to fast growth and hardy plants. The seeds are planted in a small starter field where there is irrigation or other water supply to insure strong healthy plants. After a few weeks the young rice plants are then transplanted into larger fields where they will mature. Each day these small (usually 1 rai each) fields are tended to by workers that water, keep the birds away and monitor the progress of the young rice plants. As the plants become close reaching enough maturity for early rice, the “bird patrol” becomes an increasingly important aspect of caring for the rice. The rice plants mature at different rates, which is normal with all rice, but because of the special care given to the small green rice fields, and because the mature plants are able to be harvested as the individual plants are ready, the product has a consistency not found in machine processed rice.
After the Green Rice has been hand harvested it is hand processed in small batches. The rice kernels are removed from the stalk by using a bicycle wheel attached to a small motor. The hulls are then removed by a process aptly called pounding, using a thick plank attached to a motor, pounding the rice until the hulls are broken. Then the rice is sifted using a weaved basket-like tray as has been done in Asia for hundreds of years. The result is lightly green colored rice that is dried in a huge wok over an open fire. Finished, the rice is wrapped in small banana leaf packages to be sold to waiting neighbors, or friends of friends as far away as Bangkok.
There are many ways to cook and serve the Green Rice. The rice has a distinct flavor, different from the usual rice found in modern markets. There are recipes for everything from a sweet candy-like sticky rice, to soups, curries, and noodle dishes.