MANILA, December 7, 2004 (STAR) By Rudy Fernandez - Most Filipinos have been eating rice all their lives.

But how much do they know about the rice varieties they are consuming?

Over the past four decades, research institutions, notably the Department of Agriculture-Philippine Rice Research Institute (DA-PhilRice) and the International Rice and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), have bred more than 100 modern, high-yielding varieties.

Notwithstanding these scientific breakthroughs, the traditional varieties have survived. The research institutions, in fairness, do not aim to eliminate the traditional varieties but offer farmers a wider choice of strains to plant. Moreover, they also assist in improving the productivity of the indigenous varieties.

Besides, many Filipinos still look for these rice varieties for their inherent good eating qualities, among them taste and aroma.

Do you know, for instance, that rice comes in varied colors, not only white, but red, black, brown, purple, and more?

One restaurant in Metro Manila exists primarily for that – to perpetuate the consumption of traditional rice varieties.

Garden House, at the corner of No. 1 Sta. Escolastica St. and Roxas Blvd. in Pasay City, is a pet project of former Tourism Secretary Mina Gabor, founder of the Center for International Trade, Expositions, and Mission (CITEM).

Opened in 2001, House Garden is the only restaurant in the country where traditional rice varieties are offered.

Interviewed early this year by PhilRice’s Diadem Gonzales, Gabor, a former president of the Philippine Chamber of Handicraft Industries (PCHI), said, "I wanted to find a niche in areas where I could address the needs of medium- and small-scale enterprises. When I traveled all over the country, I saw the good products in the provinces, but the problem was in marketing. I wanted to bring those products to the city and taste them. Then I decided that a restaurant can be a good outlet for food tasting."

The Cabinet official-turned-restaurateur started Garden House after visiting IRRI’s Riceworld Museum and Learning Center. There, she came to know about rice ecosystems and rice varieties.

For the restaurant’s ambience, its seven-page menu is made from rice paper. On its first page reads: "The Garden House takes special pride in introducing you to the pleasures of rare Philippines rice (when available) and orchestrating your meal into a memorable dining experience with carefully chosen main course, or courses to complement, enhance, and bring out the unique character, flavor, fragrance, and texture of rice. Special and rare varieties of rice are also available in hand-sewn, and take-home banig (mat) packages from our store for the delectation of family and friends, and to give away as unique gifts."

The varieties are Milagrosa, an aromatic rice from Nueva Ecija, Batangas, Laguna, Palawan, La Union, and Pangasinan; Wagwag, Apostol and Binerhen from Ilocos Norte; Malagkit sungson from Nueva Ecija, Batangas, Laguna and Mindoro; Burdagol, red rice from Bukidnon; Kutong, black rice from Cagayan de Oro City (hometown of Gabor’s late husband, the noted photographer-journalist Joe Gabor); Pirurutong, purple rice from Bulacan; Initlog dalag from Cavite; and Makapilay pusa, glutinous upland rice from Nueva Vizcaya and Batangas.

"A Garden House specialty, like black paella, for example, is a unique celebration of seafood and the aromatic black rice kutong," wrote Gonzales.

Succulent adobong pusit, seafood kare-kare, bistek Tagalog and Lola Nena’s pochero, among other dishes, are also served with cooked traditional varieties.

Gabor, who is currently one of the prime movers of the Philippine celebration of International Year of Rice (IYR) 2004, said that Garden House serves all those rice varieties, except when there are no supplies because of calamities, particularly typhoons.

"We buy them from Central Luzon and the Visayas, but the best-tasting varieties are from Mindanao," she disclosed. "Until we opened this restaurant, people were so shocked for a time because we were selling these varieties per kilogram in baskets. Those who bought even placed them in bottles because they were amused. Our own people didn’t even know they existed and this is where a massive information campaign would be good."

Gabor concluded: "I have found my niche in rice. Let rice be a winner!"

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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