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Glutinous Rice: The Glue Of Thai And Southeast Asian Cuisine

Glutinous rice, or sticky rice as it is colloquially known, is a beloved staple of Southeast Asian cuisine and perhaps most frequently attributed to the unmatched cuisine of Thailand. A recipe that comes to mind immediately for many is the famous mango sticky rice, or "khao niew ma muang" as Thais call it. The simple dessert highlighting the country's star produce—mango, coconut, and rice—is easy to prepare, especially when compared to Western desserts, and yet so indulgent, delicious, and special. 


The mango sticky rice recipe can be so easily adapted and reinvented at home by swapping out mango for your favorite fruit or simply one that is readily in reach, such as peach, plum, banana or poached pear, to give you a few ideas. One of the great things about coconut sticky rice is that it is so versatile and complementary to almost all fruits imaginable. But sweet coconut sticky rice is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to applications of sticky rice in Thai food. 

Glutinous rice is an important component of the savoury fare in Thai cuisine as well. Thais love pairing sticky rice with grilled, roasted, or fried meat for a simple yet fulfilling meal. Khao niew moo ping, or literally "sticky rice and grilled pork", for example, is such a common on-the-go snack, beloved by children and adults in Thailand. Sticky rice and fried chicken is another relatable and easy to recreate at home recipe. All you would need to source additionally from the grocers is a Thai sweet chili dipping sauce to complete the equation. 

Another thing to note about khao niew is that it comes in more than just one variety or color. In fact, some restaurants in Thailand offer the option of either glutinous white rice or its dark variation, "khao niew dum", which literally translates to "black sticky rice".  Equally delicious, khao niew dum is simply khao niew prepared unmilled, with the husk still intact, resulting in a slightly crisper mouthfeel than the milled and polished white glutinous rice, which is usually softer and sweeter. You might even notice that modern fine dining Thai eateries will prefer the black glutinous rice for its neutral and sophisticated palate, as well as its health benefits. (Black sticky rice retains the anthocyanins, which can help prevent cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, obesity, and even cancer.) 


While glutinous rice, black or white, can be so easily prepared with a simple electric rice cooker these days, if you're in for a cultured experience, you might want to look into finding a Thai "huad", or traditional bamboo steamer. Thais have used this oblong, cone shaped, woven steamer to cook sticky rice since ancient times, and it is still very much used today. The steamer varies greatly in sizes, depending on need. For instance, a six- to seven-inch huad is ideal for a small nuclear family. Big or small, however, the method of cooking glutinous rice with the traditional steamer is the same. The steamer is placed over a boiling pot, and uncooked glutinous rice is placed inside the steamer, covered with a cloth, banana leaf or a lid of sorts. As steam rises from the boiling pot, it is filtered and circulated through the tiny airways naturally formed by the bamboo weaving. This is considered the purest method of preparing Thai sticky rice, as the huad essentially ensures that the rice is not over soaked and as an added plus, infuses the natural aroma of bamboo into the perfectly cooked rice. Hardcore foodies and Thai chefs will attest to the elevated results of the huad in both the texture and taste of the rice.