A LUGGAGE full of rice was what I brought back to Malaysia during a trip home late last year.
The rice from China’s northeastern provinces (Heilongjiang, Jilin and Liaoning) is the best I have even eaten so far, it’s so delicious until I could gulp it down with just a few drops of soy sauce.
I was not the only one who felt that way. Other guests who ate the rice felt the same way too.
The rice is so popular that some restaurants in Beijing highlighted that they served dongbei dami (north-eastern rice) in their menu.
There are various kinds of rice grains in this area and I did not know which is the best so I just bought a few packets of different brands.
The price for a pack of 10kg rice ranges between 50 yuan (RM30) and 200 yuan (RM120).
Although rice is not the main staple in the northern region, where people usually eat noodles and bao made of wheat or corn, its quality is good due to the black soil rich with minerals.
Rice is only harvested once a year because of the long winter season in the north.
The dongbei dami may be the most delicious rice in China but when it comes to productivity, nothing can beat the southern ones.
More than 60% of the Chinese consume the grains grown in the south, thanks to the Father of Hybrid Rice, Yuan Longping, who cultivated a type of hybrid rice that yielded 20% more than others in 1974.I visited the Sanya Haitang Bay Paddy Field National Park in Sanya of the southern Hainan Island, where the Yuan Longping National Rice Research and Development Centre is located.
The park’s vice-general manager Edward Yang proudly explained that the park managed to double the rice productivity to slightly over 1,000kg per mu – the Chinese measurement unit which is equivalent to about the size of a football field.
“This is very important to feed the massive 1.4 billion mouths in China,” he said.
“Not only this, but Yuan’s rice breed is also shared with dozens of nations in Africa, America and Asia – contributing greatly to the world demand.”
Yang explained that Yuan’s research centre was set up there as one of the original padi plant varieties used to cultivate his “three-line” hybrid rice variety was found on the island.
Covering a total area of some 500ha, the park has planted 500 varieties of rice for research and commercial use.
But what caught my eyes upon arrival at the park was the gigantic dinosaur models that stood in the boundless field.
Dubbed China’s first outdoor Jurassic Park, there are a total of 323 real-scale dinosaur models of 277 species here – an education project of the park in collaboration with the Palaeontological Society of China.“These are dinosaurs discovered in China,” said Yang.
He said they agreed to work on the project immediately when the society approached them.
“We have the space to display the dinosaurs in real-scale.
“Just padi, fruits and flowers are not enough to attract tourists, we need to make some money after all,” Yang smiled.
Yuan, 89, studied agriculture at university although his parents had hoped to see him take up science or medicine courses.
“I went to a horticultural garden on a primary school outing. The garden was beautiful and there were nice fruits like grapes.
“I thought it would be a great thing to learn agriculture,” he said in a 2008 interview with China Radio International when he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement prize in China.
He became a teacher at an agricultural school in Anjiang, a small town in Hunan province.
When China was suffering from a massive nationwide famine in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Yuan ventured into his rice research to ensure that people would have sufficient food in the future.
The Paddy Field National Park is the largest agro-tourism attraction in Sanya.
Its tourist information centre, in the shape of a huge padi plant, is built based on Yuan’s dream.
In his dream, Yuan saw padi plants that grow to 2m-tall and each grain as big as a peanut, and people were taking shade under the plants.
Since opening its doors to the public in January last year, it has welcomed some 400,000 visitors in 12 months.
It houses a restaurant with the capacity of 5,000 people, homestay cabins, a fun farm for fruit and vegetable plucking experience, a museum on Chinese rice farming culture and other facilities.