Monday, June 27, 2005

The Old Rice Fields of Sha Tin

A fact of the day has presented itself to me in the form of a footnote near the end of Austin Coates' China Races. It is thus:

Sha Tin - it means sandy fields - once produced what was probably the finest rice in the world, a long, thin grain of exceptional fragrance. In former times the entire crop was purchased annually for the Imperial Court in Peking. After the Revolution it became possible for the first time for Hongkong people to purchase the rice, by going out to the valley and buying direct from farmers. The rice was never served in restaurants; it all went into private houses, and even there it was served only on very special occasions. The valley is now completely urban, and Sha Tin rice exists no more. Attempts were made to plant it in other parts of the New Territories, but it nowhere achieved the quality it had when grown in its home valley.

Mr. Coates would certainly have known about this, given his career as British magistrate in the New Territories, chartered in what was possibly his finest work, Myself a Mandarin. There may still be records of the rice-growing at the traditional building housing the Shatin Rural Committee, now dwarfed by the Sha Tin KCR station and the huge mall nearby...

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