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Rice in the time of EJKs: Why PH crop should make headlines

Philippine heirloom rice at Madrid Fusion Manila. —Nina Daza Puyat

Philippine heirloom rice at Madrid Fusion Manila. —Nina Daza Puyat

How do you tell the world about how beautiful the Philippines is? Here’s a unique way: Tell them about the produce of our land.

If Colombia is known for coffee and Venezuela is known for cacao, what is the Philippines known for? It certainly shouldn’t be corruption or extrajudicial killings.

I was told that once upon a time, we were known for our rice. In fact, agriculturists the world over came to the Philippines to learn how to achieve better production of rice from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

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Today, however, we are only the eighth largest rice producer in the world. Worse, in 2010, we became the largest importer of rice in the world.

But in spite of these statistics, the Philippines can still be known for its rice. How? By virtue of the unique rice varieties that our lands offer.

Heirloom rice

According to Agriculture Undersecretary Berna Romulo Puyat, there are over 300 varieties of heirloom rice in the Cordillera region alone. Puyat, since becoming part of the Department of Agriculture, has been going to the Cordilleras, where she has gotten well acquainted with indigenous varieties such as Chong Ak, a plump, rust-red and seed-coated variety.

Have you even heard of this variety? Don’t worry, not even some of our best chefs have.

So Puyat, who is in charge of the “regional lunches” for Madrid Fusion Manila (MFM), made the largest gastronomy festival in Asia a platform to promote Philippine rice. (The first day’s lunch with the theme “Rice” was curated by Inquirer/F&B Report’s Angelo Comsti, the second day was curated by Nina Daza Puyat, and the third day was curated by Town & Country’s Alicia Colby Sy.)

The result has been a journey of discovery for both chefs and non-chefs.

Chef Miko Aspiras, speaker at Madrid Fusion Manila 2016, was elated with what he discovered when he created rice dishes for the MFM first day lunch. One of the items he created was sourdough made with fermented black rice.

“Imagine, we did not use yeast,” he said excitedly. “Fermentation of the black rice was our leavener.”

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Aspiras, working with chefs Peachy Juban and Kristine Lotilla, wowed audiences at the regional lunch by creating an “edible wall” with three desserts using rice: A mochi lollipop using Kalinga Apayao heirloom rice and puffed Mountain Province violet rice; a cookie feuille using heirloom brown rice; and an empanada with kiping (a leaf-shaped wafer made of rice paste that is a signature of Lucban, Quezon) made using four varieties of heirloom rice including South Cotabato black rice.

The three pastry chefs also created an interactive art installation featuring 22 desserts using Philippine rice, of course, including varieties of kakanin, and a horchata ice cream using roasted black rice.

Ambassadors

These are things that excite chefs who, in turn, excite tourists who want to try their creations.

Rene Redzepi even went so far as to move Noma, four times named World’s Best Restaurant, to Mexico to discover exciting new produce to play with. Bibo in Madrid by Dani Garcia presents Peruvian ceviche to its customers, talking about the use of tiger milk as if they had known it all their lives.

Then the chefs and restaurants around the world become ambassadors of the countries whose products and cooking techniques they use.

That is the importance of Madrid Fusion Manila (brought to Manila by Madrid Fusion/Lourdes Plana, Arum Estrategias’ Inigo Cañedo and Mielle Esteban, and the Philippines’ Department of Tourism).

And Berna Romulo Puyat gets it.

If the international chefs who come here pick up on our products, they should go home talking about “this great Philippine rice from Ifugao called Tinawon” or “this rice that is purple in color from the Philippines’ Mountain Province.”

Madrid Fusion Manila was held from April 6 to 8 at SMX. Congratulations to Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo, Department of Tourism (DOT) Director Verna Buensuceso and the rest of the DOT team and private partners Marisa Nallana, Joel Pascual and Jing Lagandaon for a successful Madrid Fusion Manila for the third year in a row.

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TAGS: EJK, Philippines, rice
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