Love rice? Try varieties you have never tasted, or even heard of before, at The Rice Festival, which will be held on February 4 in Mumbai at Jio World Drive to celebrates native varieties cultivated by India’s tribal communities.
The festival, organised by Gujarat-based OOO Farms, visitors will get to taste, understand and purchase varieties such as Raibhog (Sahyadri Royal), Balram Kamod, Khadkya, Ambemohar, Warangal, Kali Khadsi, Rajghudiya, Dongri, Kaala Jirga, Ajara Ghansaal and Lal Mahadi, to name a few.
Shikha Kansagara, who co-founded OOO farms with Shailesh Awate, explains why they put this fete together: “Did you know India had over 1.40 lakh varieties of rice till 1960? With the advent of the Green Revolution and hybridisation in agriculture, the diversity of rice has reduced to just a couple of thousands.
She says this festival is a small step towards helping consumers appreciate the country’s wide variety of native rice, and all it’s flavours. They can “listen to farmers, interact with them and also taste delicious dishes cooked by some of the most popular chefs in India”.
Along with farmers from tribal communities, Chef Thomas Zacharias, who founded The Locavore, Chef Gresham Fernandez of Salt Water cafe and corporate food consultant Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal will be experimenting with 20 varieties of rice and conducting a guided tasting session, followed by dinner.
Thomas says “The core of the fest is to showcase the rice varietals, their unique properties, flavour and nutrition value. It is a step to make consumers open their minds to the indigenous rice varieties so that they can flourish once again.”
Rushina says her work in the last few years, chronicling the diversity and plurality of every aspect of Indian cuisine, has brought her home to the sheer wonder that is rice. Rushina adds, “Rice-based cuisines have a lot of traditions and dishes in common. But as universal as it is, rice is simultaneously intensely personal as well. Ghee salt rice is a homage to nanis and dadis. I will offer a version using aromatic rice with OOO farm ghee and my pahadi pisyoon loons (pahadi herbed salt). There will be a congee with red rice, served with green peppercorn pickle or naga chilli lasanyu (a chilli-garlic chutney). Dessert will be saffron meethe chawal (saffron sweet rice) with rose-pista dukkah which is a blend of the dry fruits.”
Bombay Duck Brewing (BDB), an independently owned craft brewery from Mumbai, will also be present at the festival with four rice beers brewed with indigenous varieties such as Kali Khadsi and Krishna sal, to name a few. This artisanal craft brewer started experimenting with rice beer in 2019.
Abhishek Chinchalkar, one of the brewers, says, “Rice and Shine was the first beer we brewed in 2019 with a rice variety called Ratna. Last year, we brewed four styles and experimented with red rice poha to craft some rice beers.” (Do note that the beers brewed by BDB are tap beers and should not be confused with the indigenous rice beers from the Northeast. )
Popular rice beers by BDB are Red Poha Marzen, brewed with unpolished red rice poha. “We brewed this beer in collaboration with The Locavore to explore the use of local heirloom rice in beer,” explains Abishek. The other beers are RoyALEty and Ajara Ghansal Cream Ale, inspired by German lagers that are traditionally brewed with corn. “Our take on this beer style is brewed with Ajara Ghansal, a venerable rice varietal favoured by royal families in the past,” he added. Paint it Black, a black rice stout, uses local heirloom rice. Visitors will get to taste some of these at the fest.
Who are OOO farms?
Shikha says, “The journey of OOO farms began in the days when we were avid trekkers and saw the sudden change in the Sahyadri mountains, where forests were being cleared and the flavourful food that was served on the mountains was changing rapidly.”
With the changing landscape, they also realised the struggle to find flavour on their plate. “This made us understand the clear distinction between the regenerative native, heirloom varieties of seeds and the one-time use of modern industrial seeds. This quest also made us realise that these native seeds are not only ancient but also wise in the way they could adapt themselves to the ever-changing patterns of the internal and external environment.” OOO farms work with farmers of Maharashtra and south Gujarat regions.
Understanding the crisis and emergency attached to native seeds, OOO Farms, ‘an accidental social venture, was born’ she adds. Over the course of the last five years, the duo have travelled lakhs of kilometers to collect native seeds, sow them in seed plots and have conserved more than 1,000 varieties. “However, in order for these seeds to survive and flourish, we needed to give them back in the hands of their original custodians — the tribal farmers,” says Shikha.
Shikha adds that 35 varieties of rice seeds have been successfully grown on a commercial scale creating a market for the farmers. Some of the rice varieties revived are Raibhog (Sahyadri Royal), Balram Kamod, Khadkya, Ambemohar, Warangal, Kali Khadsi, Rajghudiya, Dongri, Kaala Jirga, Ajara Ghansaal and Lal Mahadi. Next, they are looking forward to working with Chimansaal, Kasbai and Tulshya varieties.