Heard of Seeraga Samba? Or Ratna Chudi? What about Thavalakannan? Or Bahurupi? If all these names are alien to you, then in all probability you are not a rice eater. Locally-grown, these are non-commercial varieties of rice from different corners of India, some of which are fast depleting and can be obsolete in the next decade or so.
Throwing light on this important project of collating and documenting rare Indian rice species are Anumitra Ghosh Dastidar, a trained chef, and three of her colleagues. At the ongoing fourth edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, Dastidar and her friends have set up ‘Edible Archives’ – a space where locally-grown rice varieties are being introduced to visitors in a melange of different flavours.
On Wednesday, boiled Seeraga Samba, a rice variety from southern Tamil Nadu, coupled with stir-fried leafy vegetables, masoor dal (red lentils), beetroot posto (beetroot with poppy seeds) and begun bhaja (deep-fried brinjal) was served. The food, Dastidar maintains, is basic with the aim primarily to allow visitors the opportunity to eat certain rice varieties they otherwise might not.
The idea behind ‘Edible Archives’ germinated from Dastidar’s travels across the country, especially into its rural hinterlands, where she got first-hand accounts from villagers on the rice they eat and produce. It was an eye-opener for her, the different varieties that exist and the little competition they give to the commercial, hybrid varieties.
“I have been working in kitchens for a long time. In the market, we see only hybrid rice. In some kitchens, they use imported varieties like Jasmine Rice from Thailand or Sushi Rice from Japan. But in our own culture, we have equivalent varieties of rice that nobody knows because they are not commercially available. I have generally been curious about rice,” Dastidar, sitting at the Edible Archives counter in Cabral Yard in Fort Kochi, explains.
Subsequently, her rice project came up in her conversations with Anita Dube, the curator of the present edition of the Biennale, who was intrigued by the idea and asked Dastidar to come up with a proposal and send it for the Biennale. It fits in well with Dube’s theme of ‘possibilities for a non-alienated life’ and the Biennale’s attempts to bring in voices from the marginalised sections of society.
As part of Edible Archives, Dastidar has teamed up with Prima Kurien, who has worked extensively with Kerala cuisine, Kiranmayi Bhushi, a sociology professor and co-founder of the erstwhile Gunpowder restaurant in Delhi, and Priya Bala, a Sri Lankan Tamil chef, to cook different flavours on each day.
They bring to the stove their own culinary backgrounds, the spices they work with, and more importantly, the rice from their native land. At present, the four women chefs have in their custody 15 different varieties of rice, with a dozen more slated to reach the venue in the next few weeks.
“It’s a semi-open, experimental (platform). We are pairing up, like a rice variety from Manipur with Sri Lankan flavours. We are also combining with local flavours.” said Dastidar.
The Kochi Muziris Biennale began on December 12 and will run till March 29, 2019. The Edible Archives counter has been set up at the Cabral Yard venue in Fort Kochi.