I must be luckiest city girl in the world to be given the last bag of heirloom Hmong rice from my friend’s family rice crop from the north of Thailand. She explained to me that these rice seeds have been used for generations. She is a blue Hmong. In Hmong culture, people wear specific colours to represent themselves as a collective. Im picturing super smiley, different sized versions of her growing rice, and dressed in beautiful hand dyed indigo fabrics amongst vibrant green fields. She also explained to me that her grandmother grew this same rice, along with her grandmother’s grandmother, and so on. To me, this is the true meaning of ‘heirloom’. Rice is the staple of the Hmong cuisine, and it is always prepared with respect. So as you could imagine, it was a special moment for me to try my first bowl.
This rice is ‘fresh’. As in, just harvested and still slightly translucent green in colour. Each uncooked grain seemed to have a uniqueness, and the fragrance that permeated through the air made me feel like I had never had rice before. In Thai we call this ‘khao mai’ which literally means ‘new rice’, so it means it is as it’s prime eating condition.
A cup of rice was measured out in the rice cooker, and water was filled to the tip of a pointy finger above the rice. No rinsing involved. A few minutes into cooking, a fragrance of sweet hay had already started to fill the room. The perfume and the steamy rice water that humidified the room made things feel wonderfully warm and familiar. I suppose coming from an Asian upbringing, the practice of cooking rice innately represents ‘home’ in my brain. I remember my job at dinner time would be cooking the rice (in Thai we call this process ‘hung khao’). It was a ritual that I was so familiar with, from a super young age.
At the click of the rice cooker’s weathered button, the rice was ready. Rice bowls were lined up on the counter top, and a teak rice spatula was at the ready. A brilliant cloud of steam mushroomed from underneath the lid as the spatula went in to fluff the shiny, plump grains. It smelled so good! Even though I was looked at with confused eyes, I insisted on having my first bowl absolutely plain so that I could taste everything that this rice promised. It was almost waxy with a fresh taste of green. You kinda get what I mean when I say green right? The steam filled my nose and went down my throat… And then the sugarcane-sweetness of the rice gently made itself present. The texture was the perfect balance between chewy and soft, like when you get a really good chocolate chip cookie. I had a moment with the rice, a little embarrassing, yes, but I wouldn’t swap it for anything. These are the experiences that make life so important, and I hope that the Universe keeps throwing me more episodes.