Heritage Rice: Indonesia’s Living Legacy

05 Apr 2013

Last month Slow Food Bali hosted a heritage rice-tasting event to showcase the widely diverse variety of Indonesian rices, most of which are completely unknown to the average consumer. At Sari Organic, a center for organic farming in Ubud, ten rare rice varieties were laid out in small heaps on banana leaf-lined plates: browns, reds, purples and blacks, with a notable absence of white. Some were grown only a matter of metres away; others were from Papua, Java, Sumatra and Kalimantan.

Jakarta-based Helia Hilman, founder of the artisanal food company Javara, explained the differences in origin, texture, aroma and flavor, after first giving a brief presentation about rice history and traditions in Indonesia (there are about 7000 varieties of rice across the archipelago, including sea rice and swamp rice – who knew?)

A show of hands was used at the end to vote for the best rice on the plate. The runner-up was the ‘limboto’ brown rice, a firm, savory rice with a dry-ish texture and strong nutty aroma – so flavorsome and hearty, it was practically a meal in itself. The winner, to the surprise of Sari Organik’s owner Oded who had promised to start producing whichever rice won the vote, was the ‘kasepuhan ciptagelar highland black rice’ – soft and sticky, with a sweet aroma; even without sugar and coconut it was like a creamy pudding (and a definite favorite with the children, as evidenced by the black smears across their cheeks and the “number 6″ rice-pile conspicuously missing from the tasting plates down the table.)

Slow Food Bali’s Mary Jane Edleson couldn’t resist popping the question: What’s the secret to cooking really good rice? Heli explained that the quality of water is almost as important as the quality of the rice; milling, polishing and cooking methods are also contributing factors (and despite groans from those die-hard rice-cooker users in the audience, she insisted she isn’t a fan).

The talk and tastings were followed by a splendiferous array of dishes from Sari Organik’s garden. However a surprising amount of it was left uneaten – the rice itself had been so filling and nutritious, there was little need for more.

Perhaps, as Helia said, one spoonful of rice that’s been grown with care and filled with blessings holds more nutrition, and provides more sustenance, than a gargantuan plateful of white rice.

Javara is an artisanal food company which represents smallholder farmers and food artisans who strive to maintain traditional practices and indigenous wisdom in their production of food. See www.javara.co.id

Read more about Slow Food Bali at www.slowfoodbali.com

Article originally published on ubudnowandthen.com

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