Having a taste of adan rice from the Krayan Highlands

Fresh air, unpolluted environment, clear water from the mountain streams, cool temperatures; perhaps these were the combined factors that contributed to adan rice of Krayan Highlands being so delicious.

Famous for its fine and small grain with a unique texture, adan rice is in high demand not only in Indonesia but also in the Malaysian market.

Located at an altitude between 760 and 1,200 meters, the highlands are not well connected by road with the rest of the Indonesian lowlands in Kalimantan. In addition to that, river transportation is impossible due to high rapids. So, the main centre of Krayan, Long Bawan is only accessible by flight from Nunukan or Tarakan, North Kalimantan.

However, Long Bawan is connected by gravel road to Ba Kelalan in the Malaysian state of Sarawak.

Due to this, most farmers sell their adan rice to the Malaysian market after reserving some for personal consumption.

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A view of Krayan paddy fields from our plane.
Paddy farming in Krayan Highlands
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Farmers clearing the paddy field in April to get ready for the planting season in July.

The farmers in Krayan cultivate paddy according to traditional and organic practices. Every family farms between one to five hectares of rice fields.

Adan rice in particular takes about five to six months to mature. Hence, only one crop is planted every year.

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A farmer takes a break from working on the paddy field.

According to local guide Alex Ballang, some of the locals tried to plant the rice twice a year but the attempts were never successful.

“We are not sure why the attempts failed. Maybe because of the weather or temperature, so now we only plant them in one cycle a year.”

The locals start to prepare the rice seedlings in July and the planting begins. Then, they start to harvest the rice in late December until February.

Everything is organic when it comes to maintaining the paddy fields. The farmers use traditional irrigation techniques like bamboo pipes and canals to channel the clear water from the mountains surrounding the fields to their farms.

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Alex describing paddy farming in Krayan.

On top of that, although buffaloes can be seen almost everywhere in Krayan Highlands, they are not used for plowing; they let the buffaloes loose in the fields to trample the soil and eat the weeds.

Plus, what can be more organic than buffaloes’ dung to fertilise the rice fields?

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A buffalo takes a bath in the mud.
The nutritional value of adan rice

In 2012, the Indonesian government awarded the adan rice from Krayan highlands the certificate of Geographic Indication (GI). This was to acknowledge the unique characteristics of this rice.

Adan rice comes in a number of colour varieties – white, red and black.

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White adan rice.
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Red adan rice.
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Black adan rice.

The black adan rice in particular was included in the Slow Food Art of Taste products by Slow Food Foundation. Created by Slow Food International and Slow Food Italy, it is the operational body to protect food biodiversity.

According to the foundation, the black variety of the rice is rich in minerals such as iron, calcium and phosphorus.

Additionally, it has high protein content and relatively low fat and carbohydrate content compared to the white variety.

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Adan rice wrapped in leaves called isip.
Cooking adan rice

The Lundayeh people of Krayan have different ways to cook their rice.

Luba Laya is their soft rice wrapped in isip leaves. The Kelabit of Malaysia also have a similar dish. It has a soft, almost porridge-like texture. As for other Indonesian dishes, luba laya is most almost like the softer version of lontong.

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Luba Laya

Speaking of porridge, the locals have their own known as biter. Almost like risotto, but without the parmesan cheese, it is cooked with different kinds of wild vegetables such as cassava leaves and ginger flowers.

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Among the three varieties of adan rice, the crème de la crème of them is none other the black variety.

Traditionally, black adan rice is cooked together with other rice particular the white ones. Now, more and more people love to eat the black variety on its own.

When it cooks, the black adan rice gives out a sweet aroma distinctively different from other rice.

Even when you taste the black adan rice, you will notice that it is slightly sweeter than the others. It is flavourful enough that you can eat the rice on its own.

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Some traditional Lundayeh dishes.
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An empty paddy field.
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Most of Lundayeh desserts are made from rice.

Patricia Hului is a Kayan who wants to live in a world where you can eat whatever you want and not gain weight.

She grew up in Bintulu, Sarawak and graduated from the University Malaysia Sabah with a degree in Marine Science.

She is currently obsessed with silent vlogs during this Covid-19 pandemic.

Due to her obsession, she started her Youtube channel of slient vlogs.

Follow her on Instagram at @patriciahului, Facebook at Patricia Hului at Kajomag.com or Twitter at @patriciahului.

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