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?)
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.
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:
- 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:
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.
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.
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.
Step 7: thrashing
- The dried bunches are then beaten (thrashing) against a piece of wood in order to remove the rice grains.
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:
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.
- 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.
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.
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.