In Japan, rice is definitely a staple food. It fits well with so many other items and often is the thing that glues a meal together. Take Japanese shabu shabu, for example. In almost every situation, you’ll be eating your pot of meat, vegetables, and broth with a bowl of rice. Because Japanese cuisine has so many interesting flavors, a bland portion of this simple food can be turned into something way more by eating it with something else. I’m sure you’ve heard of soy sauce and rice, right?
Nothing is cooler than seeing how the food you eat is made. Luckily, there just so happened to be an opportunity for us to visit a rice farm just outside of Kyoto. We drove into this small village that was surrounded by lush forests and rice paddy fields. I knew in an instant that this was going to be a very unique experience. Our guide, Taka, was a complete expert, answering all of our questions. The best part was when he took us on his water tractor/planter out into the field to plant his freshly bought rice plants. It was really neat to see the tiny plants get dropped into the water in an organized fashion. At the end of the process, the whole field looked like a bunch of synchronized green dots. Here are some new pieces of information that I learned with our guide:
- Rice typically takes half a year to grow, before it is harvested (I may be a little off on this number).
- White rice is brown rice with the shell/skin peeled off, making it less healthy.
- Rice farmers usually buy small squares of rice plants (early stage of growth) to then be dropped into the water for farming.
- While people claim that brown rice has arsenic in it, thus making it unhealthy for you, Japan does not have that problem.
- In the first few weeks of growth, the rice plants will grow way bigger than their starting size.
- The water that the rice is planted in is supplied by the rivers running down from the mountains/hills.
After planting the rice, Taka took us to his family run restaurant where we enjoyed an amazing vegetarian meal consisting of okra, eggs, tofu, soup, pickled vegetables, and homemade brown rice with bamboo shoots mixed in. We ate most of the food with dashi, a basic, but delicious broth made out of bonito flakes and kelp. Poured over the rice, my new favorite (temporarily) garnish made a simple carb turn into a monstrous flavor, just melting in my mouth. The farm grown staple food was so fresh and organic tasting that I would take it over white rice any day. Now that I’ve had this new experience, I have a deeper appreciation for the term rice: farm to plate.
My dad and I helped Taka slide the the square rice plants into the device that would ultimately plant them in the field.