This ancient variety of non-glutinous rice is traditionally grown in Jeju Island’s middle mountain and coastal field regions. “Moin” is the Jeju language word for non-glutinous. “Sandi” and “sandui” are the Jeju language words for upland rice. Among the varieties of moinsandi, this variety is assumed to be wonsandi, that is, a variety that is not properly glutinous but neither is it non-glutinous because in that given mountainous region it takes on a very particular texture.
According to Heuksalim (Living Soil) Research Institute’s 2011 study this variety’s character is as follows. The heading stage begins around August 15th when the awns are long and pink. During the filling stage, the grains are amber and the panicles droops over from the neck of the panicle at ripening stage. The harvest season is in early October. This non-glutinous rice plant has awns and is on the short side. The harvest yield is less than that of the general cultivated-form of rice. Although moin sandi is a non-glutinous type of rice, it has a chewy texture and the more you chew, the more savory it tastes. This particular variety of rice was collected in 2008 by Haeok Yang and Hyeongjun Gang, an elderly couple living on a family farm located in Jeju Island.
Although the method for paddy rice cultivation was already learned from the mainland of Korea many thousand years ago, there was insufficient water and land for paddy rice farming on Jeju Island so rice farming was mostly done on rainfed fields. Upland rice cultivation began much earlier than paddy rice cultivation on Jeju Island, but the land was also used for growing other grains such as millet. On subsistence family farms, the upland rice variety was preserved.
Rice on Jeju Island was used in place of barley during festivals or other special events. Therefore, in areas lacking a paddy field many households grew a bit of upland rice themselves to prepare for those occasions. Another occasion would be when one received great help from the community and wanted to feed them. On Jeju, gonbap (fine or beautiful rice) and gontteok (fine or beautiful rice cake) are used during banquets to show that one has prepared the meal with all his or her heart. Through the use of sandi (upland rice) and sandi eumsik (meals made with upland rice) one can feel the hearts of the past generations of the Jeju people that tried their best to protect their community by honoring, enjoying and sharing important days with special meals in a barren environment.
However, to cut back on the usage of rice it was possible to mix the rice with barley when cooking. When people were well off, they used upland or wetland rice and those meals were called “gonbap.” “Gonbap” means fine or beautiful rice and because of its white color, which is more charming than the sooty barley or dark millet grains.
Sandi was directly seeded around Buddha’s birthday according to the lunar calendar. The plant was then harvested in September/early October. However, if the farming began earlier then the rice was used as part of the dishes in the ancestral rites ceremony during Chuseok in August. Next after sandi was barley and primarily it was hulless barley. Barley was seeded around Daeseol (December, 8th). It was said that barley was easily cultivated so any field was used. It’s also said that it was typical for one family to harvest two to three gamani (a grain bag). After sandi the next most commonly cultivated grains were barley and wheat. If barley or wheat was cultivated and harvested around June then the cultivation of sandi around the end of April or early May was quite difficult. On top of that, if barley matured quickly for harvest, it was impractical for sandi to be done as it is likely too late and, if it as, it wouldn’t turn out well. Therefore, if one intended to have a good harvest then millet or buckwheat were better choices. If millet was chosen, then barley was grown after that. It was possible to continue crop rotation on the same field in this manner, however, if one wished to cultivate “sandi” then, to do it properly, the field must not be cultivated in the winter. The longer the land is left idle the more flexibility there was when growing “sandi.” In other words, just like there needs to be flexibility in life so too sandi needs flexibility and time to rest. Even though “sandi” is admittedly just a grain for the people of Jeju it is also more than that. It is also noble and is considered a beautiful rice. Therefore, the older generations say, “Even though it’s just millet, if it can be eaten then it’s good.” For the people on Jeju from that time, the meaning of sandi and millet are summed up well in that phrase.
Even until the 1970s moin sandi was a staple food crop, but beginning in the 1980s, as large amounts of rice flowed into Jeju from the mainland, the cultivation of moin sandi rapidly decreased.