After witnessing the truly labor-intensive work required to grow and harvest rice, I’m convinced there must be some truth to the old saying that every grain of rice left on one’s plate equals one year in purgatory.
Mike and Goey, my Bacolod hosts, come from a family that grows Japanese rice. The rice is packaged under the brand name, Koshihikari. With its distinctive red sun logo, it’s most likely the rice you find at your favorite Japanese restaurant and supermarket. Short grained and sticky like all good Japanese rice is, it’s so tasty that I’ve made many a meal out of it without wanting for a viand.
The farm itself is located in Canlaon, aptly named the OISCA Canlaon Model Farm. A fast 2-hour drive from Bacolod, the last quarter hour of the trip is a bumpy ascent to what some might call the “stairway to heaven.” On a drastically reduced scale from the Banaue Rice Terraces, the Canlaon farm consists of terraces, which, through constant use and maintenance, allows water to flow continuously down through the successive rice fields. Rice seeds are planted in a seedbed and the young plants are then transplanted into the paddies which now hold half a foot of water. The water level drops as the plants mature and the ground is dry once harvest time comes around. It’s nowhere near as easy as it sounds since farmers must persistently weed the rice paddies to maintain water flow throughout the terraces.
- photo taken with my Nokia 6700 Classic
Here’s a shot of what Mike calls the “vista,” the farm’s reservoir of water. (See also cover photo above).
- note the tiny person off on the left for some perspective on how large this tree is
- tilapia “bed”
- hungry tilapia
The rice farm is beautiful, stunning landscapes that inspire feelings of serenity. I’m amused at a flock of ducks playing “follow the leader” whose leader doesn’t seem to like me ”“ every time I try to take a photo, the flock goes in the opposite direction. On the farm, there’s a gargantuan tree said to be more than a thousand years old whose roots remind me of Ta Prohm temple in Cambodia. Elsewhere, Goey raises tilapia in a small pond, some of which we have for lunch that day as well as yellow corn. I’m impressed with what he does.
Koshihikari brand rice is milled at Canlaon and smaller operations at the family’s San Julian farm (in Moises Padilla, Negros Occidental) and Tangub in Bacolod. It’s during milling that the bran and husk are removed (bye bye, brown rice!) along with stones and foreign matter, and the grain is polished to produce that white wonder called (in this case, Japanese) rice. Unlike farming and harvesting, milling is a mechanized process with machines performing highly specific tasks ”“ i.e. milling, polishing, sorting, sieving, sizing, grading, packing, etc. When I’m there, at least two machines are going full blast and I fear I may go deaf, but I get used to it, a distinct cacophony settling into a humming rumble-rhythm.
There are also two chiller rooms where sacks of rice grains are stored to prevent spoilage. It’s a cool, closed space and I take a breather perched on a tower of rice sacks. Some rice grains have spilled onto the concrete floor, their whiteness glimmering in the fluorescent lights. Though “white (rice) is right” for most consumers, Mike tells me that the company is considering offering Japanese brown rice to serve those who’ve asked for it. There are sacks of it in the hall and I think they look as tempting as their white counterparts. Frankly, after today, I don’t see how anyone can eschew rice.
- empty pili shells line the driveway leading to the ECJ commissary
On the way back to Bacolod, we pass by ECJ Farms, perhaps the single biggest plantation in the Philippines. My goal is to gorge on durian while the others fill their bags with the various preserves and dried fruit available at the commissary. Some of the more interesting products produced here are dried green mangoes and a jam counterpart, durian products galore, and my new best friend, sinamak, the bottles of which are loaded up with incendiary stuff. Being the nosy person that I am when it comes to food, I flip open the doors of the box chillers and am astounded at the volume of frozen durian that greet me.
ECJ Farms has a surfeit of durian, as I see for myself when I peek into their two storerooms. Still in their husks and teetering on spoilage, the fruit is just lying there. How I wish I could cart them all home (or at least to my hotel in Bacolod) and throw a durian party for my fellow durian comrades! But I settle for a single fruit since Mike maintains that there will be NO eating of durian in the car today. Hmph, joykill.
- durian tree
Like yesterday, Goey and I split a durian but I’m disheartened by the fruit that the vendor has picked out for us. It’s not ripe enough and eating the flesh from the seed is like eating a crunchy apple. I throw away my seed in disgust. The pili-mango tarts that I’ve also bought don’t fare any better with me, either. The crust is hard and the filling is dry and lacking. Thank goodness for Virgie’s which I’ll be visiting tomorrow.
Koshihikari Japanese Rice
Available at all major supermarkets
Main office: 4277 Emilia St., Palanan, Makati
Hacienda Candelaria, San Enrique, Negros Occidental
(034) 460.2348 / 2372