Monday, April 4, 2011

Taiwanese Traditions: The Planting and Growing of Rice

A Rice Field in Taoyuan City.
When you live in Taiwan one thing you see a lot are rice fields. It seems that Rice is planted just about anywhere that somebody has some space. They are mixed in with city buildings, they’re spread throughout more rural areas, in fact, they’re just about everywhere. The rice-planting season begins in late March. Recently, Brenda and I took our motorcycle to the city of Yingge and along the way we came across some men planting Rice.

The process of Rice planting is pretty interesting. Brenda grew up on a farm in Ohio. They planted popcorn in their fields, but the planting of rice is very different than planting popcorn. For one thing popcorn is planted on dry land and rice is planted under a layer of water.

When planting rice the field is prepared the soil is broken up and flooded then the rice seedlings are placed into the flooded ground in rows. In the old days this was done by hand. Men lined up across the flooded field. Each carried a pouch with a number of seedlings hanging from their shoulder and planted three seedlings across. And then stepped back and repeated the process. The line of men would walk backwards this way across the entire length of the field. They would then repeat the process in the next paddy, and the next,  until all of the paddies were planted.

These days rice is planted in a more automated way. Small Kubota tractors are equipped with special seedling planting equipment. The tractor is driven in a straight line across te field and the seedlings are automatically placed into the flooded ground. What before would take many men an entire day can now be done by two or three men in a couple of hours. We watched a two-man planting team plant a small field in about 15 minutes. The rice is then cared for throughout the growth season and is harvested around October.

Rice is one of the main staples in the Taiwanese diet. It is well suited to growing in Taiwan because a large yield of rice can be grown in a small area. This is why you see rice fields in cities. Rice requires a great deal of water throughout its growing process. Taiwan’s wet climate and high rainfall combine to create the perfect conditions for cultivating rice.

A Taiwanese rice farmer fertilizes his field.
Rice growing has been the traditional agricultural staple in China since it was domesticated Yangtze River valley in approximately 5000 B.C. Prior to being domesticated it was eaten in it’s wild form.

Rice is served with just about every Taiwanese meal. White rice is the most common form served. People scoop the plain rice out of the bowl and into their mouths with chopsticks. Rice is also formed into delicate thin noodles, or shaped into pyramids, with meat and chestnuts, called Zongzi, These are the traditional food of the Dragon Boat Festival. Sometimes, the sticky part of the rice is molded into balls called "tang yuan” (soup circles) and served in soup or a kid of sweet dessert soup. Fried rice can be made with pork chicken, seafood or eggs. Finally a type of cookie is made from rice that is sweet on one side and salty on the other. Rice can be prepared by steaming, boiling or frying. Because of its versatility rice is probably eaten more than anything else.

Rice ready to be harvested.
You might also be interested in:
Taiwanese Traditions:  The Dragon Boat Festival
Eating My Way Through Taiwan:  Niu Rou Mian
Taiwan Travelogue:  The Traditional Market
Taiwan Travelogue:  Old Ceramics Street

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