Words & Pix: S. Yuen
A working trip to Bangkok gave me a good glimpse of the rice industry and local food scene there. I had the chance to visit a learning centre, 2 rice mills and the colossus Thaifex - World of Food Asia 2017. I have to admit, before this trip, my knowledge on rice was shamefully lacking. For someone like me whose main stable is rice, I have been taking rice for granted and clearly owe those hard-working folks in the industry my sincere apology.
Though learning about rice was the main focus, for foodies like me, exploring street markets and enjoying indigenous grubs occupied most of my free time in order to capture the true food culture and feel the tempo of Thai people's everyday living.
Browsing the market:
The ocean and rivers bring in abundance of seafood such as prawns, squids, octopus, oysters, crabs and all kinds of fish. A lot of them are preserved, dried or processed for easy transportation and longer self-life. You see them sold in packages in the market. Seafood mongers also sell freshly-fried shrimp and/or crabmeat wrapped in tofu skins that shoppers can enjoy on the spot or bring home as snacks. The most eye-catching street food is the sweet or savoury pudding stuffed and charboiled in foot-long bamboo. The small charboil stove locates right next to the sweating keeper who tends to them have to turn and watch them cooked under the scorching sun.
Blessed with year-round sunshine and lush farmlands, markets are lined with colourful fruits, fresh herbs and vegetables, the main sources for making soothing, delicious ice-cold juices, obviously a welcome lure for passers-by. The same ingredients used by hawkers who prepare and cook them in pancakes, dumplings and pastries, often in a tiny mobile make-shift but yet functional counter top attached to a bicycle or a cart.
Visiting Lifestyle and Spirit of Thai Farmers Learning Center:
150/6 Moo.8. Tambon Banpho. Amphur Mueang, Suphanburi 72000 www.herechai.com
Located in a natural village marked by rice paddies, huts and ancient buildings, this volunteer-based learning centre is more like a museum that takes visitors back in time when farming was living. Showcasing 12 varieties of rice grains and the 4 life cycles of rice, this is where the rice-growing process is observed, studied and improved. Here, we learn how seeds are sown into seedbeds containing a compound made up of even percentage of soil, charcoal and the rice husk to germinate first before transplanting into the paddies.
2) Touring of two rice plants:
Besides bags of rice, I had no idea what to expect to find in a rice plant. But what greeted me were amazingly sophisticated operational systems, not to mention highly functional warehouse practices and advanced technologies. All kick into gear upon the arrival of milled rice delivered in trucks: Inspection, sorting, DNA analysis, cleaning, quality control, further inspection, packaging and labelling. Interestingly, rice cookers play a rather important role in the quality control department - what better way than to cook, smell and taste the rice?
a) Siam Grains: A family-run company who started in 1949 as a glutinous rice retailer up north, in the rice captial of Thailand Chiang Rai. Fully established in 1982 as a significant rice company who exports brands such as Ko-Ko, Golden Camel, Golden Axe, Golden Cobra, Sunflower, Na Thai and Royal Pearl to USA, Canada, Europse and other Asian countries.
b) Capital Rice Company: A member of STC Group, one of the top five rice exporters in Thailand who ships to over 100 countries and the largest rice supply the domestic market. Capital Rice boasts several huge processing plants and warehouses, state-of-the-art computerized facilities and own transportation fleet of thousands of GPS trucks. www.capitalrice.com