An ingredient so versatile that curates within its range a whole world altogether of delicacies yet limited by extents of the geographical, the unique popularity of sticky rice is one of a delightful assertion. The star of Southeast Asian and East Asian cooking even when its occurrence is not of the staple essence in that they do not cook up main meals but retains its own distinct identity both in the processing of traditional recipes and in imparting a definite flavour, sticky rice is the binding element indeed of an entire consortium of national identities distinct yet analogous in their character of a coexistence in harmony.
So prominent is the singularity of this specific variety of the global food that rice otherwise is that has also led it to acquire an identity of definite characteristic. Naturally sweet in terms of taste, sticky rice is also called sweet rice. No wonder then that it is particularly well suited for cooking up many a dessert recipes. And thus along the entirety of the south Asian expanse there occurs an encounter with some of the most special sweet dishes exclusive to this part of the world.
Mochi is by far the most popular contender of this sweet stickiness globally even as the more general rice cakes too avail of this specific attribute in many variations of them. And yet, for all their overwhelming measure of sweetness, sticky rice is also as adept in having the savoury taste occur through its ingredienting.
Rice cakes again is the prominent assertion through which sweet rice wafts also its salty aromas of equal deliciousness. Regionally though, savoury preparations of the rice occur in as much variety as its sweeter evokings. This dual distinction is however not even the entire culinary character that sticky rice is calling upon in itself. The preparations of this distinct rice variety assumes a wide many forms, finding as much use also in their pounding and grinding to flour as they do in their individual grains. And why just solids and/ or dry preparations, sticky rice is also a standout ingredient in brewing many local beverages as colossal south and east Asian specialities.
Gluten-free but glutinous still!
For all its connotating the properties of stickiness and sweetness as such, it might be at once somewhat obvious and not as well that the more proper identity of it asserts as glutinous rice. The reference of course is to its character of being a sticky cultivar but the sounding of it in resonance with the all ‘trendy’ awareness of gluten might make it inappropriately emerge as being a type of rice with gluten. However glutinous rice is as much gluten free a variant than any other and the glutinous identity necessarily imparting only the information of its gluey texture.
Such distinctiveness of this rice variety that which dictates its stickiness and chewiness is all derived out of its essential identity as being a low amylose and high amylopectin crop. This specialness of its textural occurring is most discernible when it has been cooked. But even in the examination of the raw grains, sticky rice would standout still in its opaque nature. The aroma of sticky rice is also revealing of its identity, the sweet flavour of which definitely lingers in such unmistakable assertion of uniqueness.
Even the most simplest of sticky rice preparations boast therefore a gastronomic character that is vivid in the experience of its eating. Bring to mind the ordinary preparation of what summons all taste of divinity as delivered by an classic Thai sticky rice preparation and one would be bowled over indeed by the soulfulness of such creation. Incorporate it in powder form in a vast array of recipes of both traditional and global tickling of the taste buds and the amazement does not wane any ounce as regards to the versatility of sticky rice in transforming entire dishes altogether.
And thus, encompassing every measure of textural description from the soft and supple and bouncy plumpness of the Japanese mochi to the powdery consumption of sticky rice powder as a breakfast meal in itself in some parts of India, the potential of these glutinous grains of rice is unmatched indeed. Not to forget the more generic sticky rice puddings and dim sums and cooked in bamboos and numerous such recipes that cook up this ingredient in surprising smacks of taste and flavour and the rice of all clinginess does indeed hold together all essence of its fondness.
Here’s taste- testing the many sticky flavors of glutinous rice-
Pithas refer to a whole different dimension of deliciousness that is traditionally relished by different regions in this part of the world. In the northeast Indian state of Assam most prominently as well as in the neighbouring country of Bangladesh, these sweetmeats of a quality that is celebrated culinarily as well as revered traditionally are special preparations during the winter harvest season. A range of these preparation prevail as either baked or fried or steamed or slow roasted, but most notably relying on the characteristic quality of its batter to cook up their unique classification. Savoury pithas exist too, as does plain and filled versions of them, each delectable in their own bite and texture and taste.
Another Japanese preparation with glutinous rice, Okawa is a savoury dish that serves as a meal in itself. Cooked rice is combined with meat and/ or vegetables, with wild herbs being another distinctive element of the preparation. The dish can also be presented as Okowa riceballs that are prepared through a specific process before being wrapped in nori sheet for a characteristic offering that complements the more global Japanness of what one deciphers in the sweet balls of the mochi.
While the Thai preparation of mango sticky rice might be globally coveted for its exotic sweetness, there would be still other assertions of sumptuousness arising from this land of definite tastes. Khao Lam refers to a sweet still preparation of sticky rice that is steamed inside bamboo tubes, infusing the cake with that bamboo ‘flavor’ for more uniqueness to take over. The usual ingredients of rice and sugar or salt mixed with water to feed into the bamboo tubes often sees additions made in the form of grated coconut, coconut milk or even a coconut custard center to render even more delectable this slow cooked treat. Popular also in Laos and Cambodia, and relished as both sweet and savoury versions, Khao Lam is one of the many ways in making up the entire category of bamboo sticky rice dishes.
Bibingka is a baked sticky rice dessert from the nation of the Philippines that is special in more ways than one. A Christmas sweet even when it can also be generally prepared and eaten, bibingka is made from glutinous rice that has been fermented in specific jars and then made into a paste with some water or coconut milk. Eggs, butter, sugar and even cheese could be the other ingredients summing up this slightly sweet and somewhat sour preparation. The traditional method is a long process in cooking which has made for modern day substitutes to take over for convenience. A classic Filipino serving of bibingka would necessarily sport a salted duck egg and cheese topping, making for an indulgence that is unlike any other experience of the dessert world.
LO MAI GAI
Translating as glutinous rice chicken, Lo Mai Gai is a Chinese specialty that asserts as a dim sum despite its name seemingly alluding to a whole meal kind of preparation. The alternate identity of it as Lotus Leaf Rice holds up also this reputation while relaying also another quintessential character of the leaf encasing. Sticky rice is filled with chicken and mushroom and scallion and shrimps and sausages and is then wrapped up in a dry lotus leaf. The entire thing is then steamed as it is with the leaf also imparting its own flavor to the dish.
CHÈ TRÔI NƯớC
A very intriguing preparation of sweet rice assumes form in the country of Vietnam. As a dessert soup that is rendered ‘substance’ with the presence of rice balls, chè trôi nước asserts particularly its presence as a Lunar New Year bowlful. The mung bean paste filled balls are served in a sweet syrup definite itself in its ginger root flavoring for a dish that would be regarded as unique. But this interpretation is closely related to the Chinese traditional dessert called Tangyuan even as such ‘floats’ of the sticky rice balls would be also occurring in quite some other expressions of the Vietnamese culinary scene itself.
From the very country of Laos in which glutinous rice assumes all important identity as being the national dish arises a preparation fittingly unique in living up to this ultimate cultural and traditional distinction. Asserting in a rather modern categorisation of being an appetizer salad, the traditional Nam Khao would strike as unique in every aspect of its character. A crispy rice salad that combines deep fried glutinous rice balls with the Vietnamese pork sausage naem most essentially with a whole world of other ingredients and condiments thrown in, this occurring in and as Laotian crispy rice salad is a medley of tastes and textures and flavours.
The crisp rice balls are chunked up and mixed well with the other ingredients to account for the final offering of what is a time consuming pursuit indeed for something occurring ultimately as a salad. But such extensive process of its preparation only showcases the extent to which sticky rice stirs up the entire national identity of Laos, essential indeed for a people who takes pride in calling themselves ‘the children of sticky rice’.