Learning to harvest rice in Luang Prabang

Learning to harvest rice in Luang Prabang

Laos is famous for consuming a lot of sticky rice and the Laotians are the highest consumers of it in the world.

In Luang Prabang we visited the Living Land Farm where we learnt how to harvest rice.

There are 13 stages involved (technically 14: the last one, our favourite. Can you guess what it is?)

Eating the rice produce

Step 14 of harvesting rice is eating all the tasty yummy produce

Step 1: select best grains from previous harvest

  • The grains are first placed into salty water and only the ones that sink are used.
  • The ones that float are no good but can be fed to the chickens.
  • An egg is placed into a saucepan of salty water to obtain the right salt balance: salt is added until the egg starts to float.
Rice harvest step 1: sorting the grains

Rice harvest step 1: sorting the bad grains from the good ones

 

Step 2: germination

  • The rice grains are sprinkled into a field of marshy muddy water.
  • After 3 days, the grains start to germinate and look like this:
Rice grain germinating

A rice grain starting to germinate

  • After 3 weeks, the grains start to grow into small plants, so they are picked out and placed into a nursery to give them more space to grow a bit more.

Step 3: ploughing and harrowing the field

  • After picking the rice, the land needs to be ploughed then harrowed (levelled) so it is ready for next season’s crop. A buffalo is commonly used to pull the plough and harrow.
  • We were introduced to Suzuki the buffalo:
Stefan meeting Suzuki the buffalo

Stefan meeting Suzuki the buffalo before getting to work together

Stefan and Suzuki at work

Stefan and Suzuki at work ploughing the field

Step 4: planting the seedlings into the paddy fields

  • Once the rice plantings have started to produce seedlings, they are planted into the paddy fields.
Sebastien planting rice

Sebastien knee deep in the mud, planting rice

Step 5: create an efficient irrigation system

  • Rice paddy fields have a grid like pattern created around them, which is the clever irrigation system built to ensure water is flowing through. It reminded us a lot of the Longsheng rice terraces in South China.
The irrigation system around the rice crops

The intricate irrigation system around the rice crops needs to be maintained

Step 6: cutting the rice grains with a sickle

  • After 3 months from planting, the seedlings will harden and yellow. At this point, they are ready to be cut and placed into bunches on the field to dry for 3-4 days.
Cutting the rice and drying it in bunches

Cutting the rice crops and laying them out in bunches to dry for several days

Step 7: thrashing

  • The dried bunches are then beaten (thrashing) against a piece of wood in order to remove the rice grains.
Stef thrashing the grains

Stef thrashing the rice grains out of this bunch

Stef thrashing the grains

Stef thrashing the rice grains out of this bunch

Step 8: winnowing

  • The rice grains are then separated from other plant material by literally fanning them (“winnowing”):

Step 9: collecting the grains and carrying them home

  • The grains are collected and placed into bags like these to be carried home:
Sebastien carrying the rice grains

Sebastien carrying the rice grains from the field

Step 10: husking

  • The rice grains are beaten (husking) for around 30-40 minutes to break them down and prepare them for cooking.

Step 11: separating out the white grains

  • The beaten grains are then placed into a tray and shaken carefully to separate out the white grains.
  • The white grains are ready to be cooked and the remainder back to step 10.
Sorting the grains

Sorting the grains: a Laotian woman’s rite of passage!

  • It was traditionally believed this step is a rite of passage for women: if she didn’t master it, she would never get married!
  • The powder remains are fed to the animals.
  • The good rice grains can either be cooked or ground further into a powder to make rice noodles.
Stefan grinding unused rice particles

Stefan grinding the unused rice particles into a powder to make noodles

Step 12: soak grains in water overnight

  • Soaking the rice grains overnight makes the more digestible. The residue water can be used as shampoo!

Step 13: cooking (steaming)

  • The rice is steamed in a bamboo basket over an open fire for around 25 minutes.
Sebastien steaming the rice

Sebastien steaming the rice in a bamboo basket

Step 14: (our favourite!) serving and eating the rice

  • After cooking, the rice is served in small bamboo baskets called “lao aep khao” because they maintain it at room temperature and is not too humid or dry.
Sticky rice is served in small cute bamboo baskets

Sticky rice is served in small cute bamboo baskets called “lao aep khao”

Check out our Laotian recipes and watch our Laos travel video including more videos learning to harvest rice.

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11 Comments

  1. It is damn hard work, especially for the women who do most of the planting and weeding. And they have to harvest enough rice to keep the family going until next year’s harvest. If it’s a good year, they can perhaps sell some rice : a bad year and they just tighten their belts.

    Problems in the northern provinces (a) younger family members leaving home for study or work = fewer hands available to provide the food they need and (b) land handed over to foreigners (mainly Chinese) who take the best land, i.e. the rice paddy lands, leaving only land unsuitable for growing sticky rice.

    Was the woman separating the rice Tai Lue?

    Reply
    • Wow thanks for this very insightful comment Barbara. And yes – how did you know she is Tai Lue?

      Reply
      • The house and her skirt 🙂

        I stayed in a Tai Lue village in Oudamxai province. When I left the women in the village showered me with gifts – hand woven clothes and clothes, fruit, peanuts, flowers. Beautiful, beautiful people and they have sweet FA in money or material goods.

        You haven’t lived until you have showered in a village bathroom – a pipe with a water outlet high enough to stand under, no shower rose, standing on wooden boards, a basket containing toiletries nailed to a handy tree, and wearing the local shower garb – a piece of material sewed into a tube that theoretically one tightens under the armpits and tucks in at the top, and all in full view of the household and half the village. Terrifying! What if it falls down? I’m in my 60’s and way past the age of skinny dipping.

        I’ve been to Lao three times and have no interest in going anywhere else. The people are just so lovely and welcoming and generous and I’ve had no hassles travelling alone and with very little Lao language.

        Reply
        • Nice!

          Reply
  2. Rice paddies provide most of the protein consumed by Lao people in rural areas – frogs, snails, etc. and small fish which are preserved in an evil smelling brew called padek, which cooking transforms into a delightful aroma and taste.

    In one home I stayed in the lady of the house was feeding me morsels of something with a lovely texture and taste. Eventually I asked what it was. “Don’t know the name in English but it’s like a snail but doesn’t have a shell.” My god! I’m eating slugs! But tasted good anyway, so kept eating., and then noticed tiny, soft bones – so it couldn’t be a slug.

    I later found out I had been eating rice paddy eels, Pisodonophis boro, which spawn in the wet season and, since it was late in the wet season, I figured these were very young eels.

    I’ve eaten anything I was offered – not all to my taste but worth a try – except rats. Couldn’t come at those at all.

    I love the way Lao food is always presented with a huge range of herbs and salad vegetables. And all so fresh it’s practically screaming on the plate.

    Reply
    • Rice paddy eels??!!! Yikes….
      We also stopped at rats. Congealed pork blood was our limit 🙁

      Reply
      • What! No duck’s blood?
        The little eels are very nice. My dad used to catch and cook eels long, long ago, so no problem for me.

        Reply
  3. enjoyed a lot. loved the story telling aspect combined with pix.am gonna be there next year as a part of my adventure trip, so this info helps me a lot. thanks once again.

    Reply
    • Hi Sanjoy thanks for your message. You will love this beautiful country xx

      Reply

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