Planting rice. Photo taken from the train on the way to Sa Pa, Vietnam, summer 2005.
I missed my mom's home cooking so much when I first left for college. Though my mom often cooks my favorite dishes when I go home, what I missed the most after that first semester was eating a bowl of plain white rice. Sure the school cafeteria served their version of Asian food, which also included rice, but it just wasn't the same.
Normally, I buy a 10-lb sack of Three Ladies brand rice for about $5. That lasts me a good six months. Now, I only see the 20-lb sack and it's about $20. Crazy! So when the price of all imported rice doubled earlier this year, I decided to experiment with other brands. I bought a 20-lb sack of California brown rice for $10.99, figuring I might as well try eating healthier. But it just didn't give me the same satisfaction in texture, chew, or taste. I mean, I like brown rice occasionally, but on a daily basis with Vietnamese food, I gotta have Vietnamese jasmine white rice. Then I tried various other smaller bags of American long grain rice but it tasted dry and crumbly. In the end, I couldn't take it anymore and bought the 20-lb bag of Three Ladies jasmine rice for $20 after all.
Rice fields in my dad's village in south-central Vietnam.
So then I started thinking about words in Vietnamese to describe rice. There's lúa to describe green rice stalks in the fields like what you see in the above pictures. Cơ'm is young rice. Gạo is uncooked rice. Cơm is cooked rice, and also the same word we use to encompass any meal.
"Con, ăn cơm chưa?" ("Child, have you eaten rice yet?") My aunties and uncles often ask me in lieu of "How are you?"
Cơm tắm - broken rice
Cơm rượu - rice wine
Rượu nếp - glutinous/sticky rice wine
Nếp - uncooked glutinous/sticky rice
Xôi - cooked glutinous/sticky rice
I typed rice into VDict.com and got some more:
lúa chưa xay - unhusked rice
lúa xay rồi - husked rice
bột gạo - ground rice
lúa chiêm - summer rice, or dry season rice
lúa mùa - winter rice, or rainy season rice
Then there's other kinds of rice like red rice and black rice. And rice dishes such as desserts, porridge, chicken rice, tomato paste rice, and fried rice.
Needless to say, rice is a central part of Vietnamese, and many Asian, cuisines. Remember that scene in Fifth Chinese Daughter when Jade Snow Wong's family buys the year's worth of rice? They took samples from various vendors, analyzed the grains, and then placed their order for the entire year. My family doesn't get quite that fanatic. My mom does buy her year's supply during Tet (Vietnamese lunar new year), when the new crop comes in. She'll call and remind me to stock up too. So while I don't have any special tricks to choosing rice, I do have some tips.
Rice in Vietnam has several harvest seasons. Look for the new crop around late January to February during Tet (Vietnamese lunar new year) and September during Tet Trung Thu (Vietnamese Mid-Autumn festival). The bags of rice will actually say "new crop." I prefer Three Ladies brand, or the one with the happy Buddha.
Jasmine rice on the left. Glutinous/sticky rice on the right. Glutinous rice is sweeter and sticky, hence the name. It's often used for desserts.
A rice cup is about 3/4 of a normal measuring cup. So when a recipe calls for 1 cup of rice, I mean 1 rice cup, not 1 measuring cup. While it doesn't seem that much different, make sure your water to rice proportion is equivalent.
Lightly wash the rice by shuffling it with your fingers.
Then rinse out the cloudy water. Some people wash until the water runs clear. My dad taught me how to make rice when I was 6 years old, and he said rinsing too much removes all the B vitamins. So I listen to my daddy and only give it a twice over.
You can use the measurements on the side of the rice cooker.
Or you can dip in a finger and fill the water up to the first line of your finger. (On me, that's about 1/2-inch of water above the rice line.)
Remember to press the cook button on your rice cooker. Sometimes I forget. :P Perfectly cooked rice in about 15 minutes.
Remember to fluff the rice immediately or it'll cool down in a big clump.
Ah, the beauty of a bowl of plain jasmine white rice.
How do you cook rice? Who taught you? What's your favorite rice dish?
1 year ago today, J. Paul Getty Center and Museum (Summer) - Los Angeles - California.