The Revival Of Indigenous Rice
Image Credit: Panchdhaan Khichada at Taj Mahal Hotel

Rice over the centuries have shaped our food habits and we see its reference even in  culture the last 5000 years in Ayurveda, Buddhist literature. Rice makes a number of appearances in Indian culture in all occasion be it a wedding, death, birthday or any occasion. So much so even the annual Hindu calendar of festivals rotate around the harvest cycle of rice. In Indian Culture, rice holds great spiritual and ritual significance. It is a symbol of wealth and prosperity. Rice is a must at any major Indian cultural event, be it a morsel of kheer (rice pudding) or boiled rice being fed as the first solid food a child ever eats, to uncooked rice grains applied to foreheads with sandalwood paste to form a “tilak”- a burning symbol of the soul’s energy. 

Chef Rajesh Singh, Executive Sous Chef, Taj Mahal, New Delhi adds “The specific type of rice and its quality remains in the eye and taste preference of the beholder— our guests at the Hotel. At Taj Mahal, New Delhi while basmati rice and premium quality of imported rice is used in Indian, Asian & European cuisine, various domestic alternates are widely used and offered to our guests. At Varq, the Hotel’s modern Indian award-winning dining destination, black rice is paired with a signature pepper prawn preparation. We also make coconut rice with black rice at Varq. Red rice is prepared with various coastal dishes and Goan curries. Machan offers jasmine rice as an accompaniment to a few of its Asian curried dishes. At Albero, the restaurant at The Chambers, unpolished brown rice is used for preparing the fried rice. We believe in incorporating these varieties for their health benefits; for example, the black rice is organically grown & is procured primarily from Karnataka. Sticky rice is used in House of Ming – it is glutinous in nature & has a high starch content”. 

A lot of lack of information gives these indigenous variety a setback. But also one of the main reasons why these grains make to the table is most times the farmers get reaping better prices for these along with having bigger harvest. Chefs today across the country are not just focussing on sustainability and farm-to-table but looking much deeper in the food chain and it’s just not about developing a new menu. 

Chef Anumitra Ghosh Dastidar who runs this beautiful little eatery called Edible Archives in Goa has travelled across the country with her writer friend Shalini Krishnan is known for collecting indigenous varieties of rice and in 2018 she cooked a huge variety of dishes at 2018 edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale. Adding to this she says “I love to experiment with local variety. Last year I worked with 20 variety of rice Korgut ( Goa), Ambe mohar (Maharashtra), Ajra ghanshal (Maharashtra),Krishna kamod ( Gujarat), Ratnachuri ( Karnataka), Raktashali ( Karnataka), Rajamuri ( Karnataka), Pokkali ( Kerala), Tavalakannan ( Kerala), Katuyanam ( tamilnadu), Narashinga jota ( Bengal), Mallifulo ( Bengal) to name a few. Since I work with lot of farmers that helps me getting many variety of rice for the kitchen to experiment also since we have a dynamic menu at Edible Archives in Goa so we keep changing the rice and even talk to our guests and even tell them about the existence of those rice. Different rice is used for different dishes depending on colour, texture, stickiness and so on”. 

Focusing on the traceability of the product also becomes also makes for an important step in introducing them in the market. It’s absolutely important to increase the local awareness. Vikrant Batra, Founder Café Delhi Heights says “that the versatility of rice makes it the most loved grain all over the world. Right from the Khichdi, to simple Pulao to fragrant pots of rice and spice meats called biryani, Rice is a feast beyond compare. The special festival here is all celebrating this very super food and we have added the dishes in the menu, which have their Origin from Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Assam, West Bengal, Maharashtra and more. The menu sees dishes like Masale Bhaat, Payesh from Assam, Gian Pilaf from Goa, Tehri from Lucknow, Yakhni Pulao from Kashmir, Jadoh from Meghalay, apart from the Chipotle burritos bowl. Different varieties of rice like Sela basmati, Bangaru Theegalu, Rajbhog Arua rice, Dehradooni Basmati, Illupai Poo Samba, Musk budij, Goan short grain red rice, Ambe Mohar, Joha etc have been procured to make sure that Each dish is prepared at its utmost accuracy with the perfect amalgamation of right flavours, spices and Chef’s Magic”. 

Introducing such local varieties have seen much well response mostly by the much well-travelled foodies, and with restaurants boasting of innovation with these rice on their menu it’s to move over just Basmati.