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Friday, August 29, 2008

How to Cook Jasmine Rice

How to Cook Rice 1

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.

How to Cook Rice 2

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?"

There's also:
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.

How to Cook Rice 3

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.

How to Cook Rice 4

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.

How to Cook Rice 5

Lightly wash the rice by shuffling it with your fingers.

How to Cook Rice 6

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.

How to Cook Rice 7

You can use the measurements on the side of the rice cooker.

How to Cook Rice 8

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.)

How to Cook Rice 9

Remember to press the cook button on your rice cooker. Sometimes I forget. :P Perfectly cooked rice in about 15 minutes.

How to Cook Rice 10

Remember to fluff the rice immediately or it'll cool down in a big clump.

How to Cook Rice 11

Ah, the beauty of a bowl of plain jasmine white rice.

How to Cook Rice 12

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.


  1. I like it how you demonstrated using the finger as the waterline measurement, that's what I've been using for like forever! Now I don't eat much rice, so I use my microwave to cook rice and it turns out nice and fluffy too =)

  2. I love Three Ladies, it's the only brand I'll buy! Hubby taught me how to cook it stovetop. For some reason, I'm afraid of using a rice cooker!

  3. Since I got 'fried' by my rice cooker (long story, will have to write separate a post about it) I have been cooking my rice on the stove. The method is pretty much the same, the only thing I do differently is that I wait for the water to boil (with medium heat) and then stir the rice so that it won't stick to the bottom and then put the lid on and turn heat down to low. It works most of the time :)

  4. Thanks for info and link to VDict. It seems that the pronounciation aid is for the English word you input. Is there a way to get help for the Viet words you find?

  5. I buy the big 25 pound bags of jasmine rice. But I never really know what kind to get, so I'll have too look for the brand you are talking about. But I think I still have about 15 pounds left in this bag, so it might be awhile!

  6. It's funny how other people use the finger line method too. I thought it was just one of my mom's wacky things... That was often my job when I came home from school. And prepping veggies.

    I have to say after eating rice every day for nearly my entire life, I ate a minimal amount of rice after I moved out. Now that I've spent time in VN, I will definitely try to eat more rice!

  7. I am amazed at how Vietnamese and Chinese are very similar, not only in food - we also eat rice, but also in our manner of greeting. Instead of "how are you?" we also ask, "have you eaten?"

    Brown and red rice are healthier. But Jasmine rice is yummier. So, what I do is, I mix 2 cups of Jasmine rice with 1 cup of red or brown rice. This way, I get the fragrance of Jasmine and the fibers of the red or brown rice.

  8. Hello, I found your blog while looking for a recipe for che dau trang.

    anyhow isn't bột gạo more or less rice flour. Sure rice grains technically are grounded but yeah...

    I'm not sure if the whole measuring the amount of water with the 1st digit of your index finger works well. My mom told me the same deal, for years more often than not I'd end up with rice that too soggy. I chalked it up to being a guy and well to stop complaining and just eat rather than starve.

    anyhow turns out length of 1st digit on my index finger is longer than hers. Not calling you wrong, I'm just saying.

  9. I buy the 5lb. bag of calrose rice. I have no idea how much it costs, because I'm a terrible shopper. And it's not as fragrant as jasmine, but I buy it because it's what i'm used to.

    I make rice the same way you do too--rinse a couple of times and then measure the water with the first joint of my middle finger. I also still use the same 3-cup capacity rice cooker that I had with me in college and it's still going strong--although I do sometimes forget to push the button too. Finding out the rice isn't made after the rest of the meal is ready is probably the worst thing in the world!

  10. Can't tell you how many times I've forgotten to flip the switch up to "cook". Embarrassing really.

  11. my grandma taught me how to cook rice..and my favourite rice dish will be her version of the fried rice as well!

  12. I totally feel ya on the whole brown rice/cheap rice delimma. I drives me crazy that rice is getting so expensive. I don't eat as much as I used to, and I am actually eating more brown rice. But nothing beats a fresh pot of jasmine rice!

    My father used to make rice via the finger method. I'd completely forgotten until I saw your picture.

    Growing up in North San Diego County my sisters and I were responsible for starting a pot of rice daily for my dad. The neighbor girls were responsible for making tortillas. Everyone's favorite meal was spaghetti, because our dads didn't insist on either on those days!

    Good times :)

  13. We can't get Three Ladies here in the northeast. Would someone please recommend other good brands to purchase?



  14. TS,
    I think it's near and dear to many Asians' hearts. :)

    My mom sometimes cooks rice in the microwave too.

    The rice cooker is easier than stovetop. No monitoring needed!

    Fried by your rice cooker. You mean shocked? Time to get a new rice cooker then.

    I'm sure there is. I don't need it so I've never bothered to look for it.

    I split my bag with my sister and it still seems so full. Will probably still be eating it into the next year. So I guess I should've whined too much about the cost.

    During college I think I got accustomed to eating less rice. Don't get me wrong, I still love rice, but I don't have to eat it every day.

    I've tried mixing the brown and white rices too and it just wasn't the same. One or the other for me. I like to enjoy my rices individually for what they are.

    Thanks for pointing it out. Yeah, I meant to fix the bot gao to say rice flour because I cut and pasted the results I got from Vdict.com, then totally forgot about it when I typed up the post. As for the index finger, common sense would dictate that if it's too soggy, next time you just decrease the water until it's to your liking. Of course everyone's fingers are different lengths, it's a rule of thumb, not a hard and fast rule.

    I have a 3-cup rice cooker too. In college I used my food steamer and it worked just fine. During one party I had pushed the button but the outlet wasn't working. Was ready to eat the rice and got nothing! Hate that.

    Lunch Buckets,
    I have to keep reminding myself to push that button. Seriously! I'm so forgetful.

    I know how much you love your grandma. I learned a lot of cooking from mine as well.

    Must Love Cake,
    Haha. Oh, that wouldn't have worked with my dad. He's not a spaghetti fan. Although the thought of homemade tortillas sounds awesome!

    You can look for Sunlee's happy Buddha brand.

  15. a.) Parents started me on being the rice preparer when I was young, too! I also learned the finger method. The one time I forgot to turn on the "on" button, my dad never let me forget it since.

    b.) In college, I rarely cooked, and lost the art of using my fingers to cook rice. I learned to cook with the stovetop, and 2:1 ratio of water to rice.

    c.) My husband is not Asian; prefers bread over rice. And if he eats rice, it has to be brown. I compromise by mixing brown and white, but it's so not the same thing. :(

    d.) I've since expanded my repertoire and I make Indian rice and Persian rice. But I always, always come back to a simple bowl of steamed white rice.

  16. I cook rice in exactly the same way when I use the rice cooker. High five! Mom and Dad taught me how to cook rice.

    But when I cook rice on the stove top method, I use a little more water. Dad loves his burnt rice and the only way to achieve that is stove top.

    Now that I've moved out, I normally buy the 5 pound bags of different varieties. That way I can test, taste and smell the different types of grains for each season. If I buy a 20 pound bag of different types of rice, I'll never be able to eat it all!

    My favorite rice dish is in it's most simple form: hot rice with pickled bok choy (dua chua), and salty, slow braised fish (ca kho). And Oh!, maybe some type of canh too. Gotta have my canh!

  17. It requires skill to cook a perfect bowl of fluffy rice!! Am going to show Hubby's your post. He has been banned from cooking rice cos it turned out so soggy and mushy.

  18. I never knew rice should be rinsed.

    I use stovetop method - 1 cup rice, 2 cups water, salt- bring to boil, cover, simmer for 16 minutes.

    I am going to try the rinse step the next time to see if I can tell any difference.

    I like rice, but,gosh, a 20 lb bag would last me forever! :) I buy a 1-lb. bag and it lasts at least six months.

  19. i make rice the same way you do, my grandmother taught me. i "clean" the rice til the water runs pretty clear tho. and i measure the water with my fingers. when i went off to college, i took a small rice cooker with me. i would make rice in my dorm room (totally against the rules...) but when i came home from class, my room smelled like home. very comforting. i used to just eat the rice with soy sauce and i was a happy camper.
    excellent post! i was wondering if anyone had ever written up how to cook up rice properly. :)

  20. We started eating Jasmine rice in our house about a year ago. And although we don't eat rice on a daily basis, I now cannot stand "minute rice" or any plain white rice. They have no flavor, especially compared to the jasmine rice!

  21. My grandma taught me to cook rice...with an electric rice cooker and a step stool-I was just 7. And yep, it was using the finger measuring method. Weird how it's the same finger whether you're 7 years-old (tiny finger) or 57 (bigger, fatter finger). ;) On my own I usually cook rice stove top, using a non-stick pot and the 1 part rice, 2 parts water method. Makes perfect rice whether you're using white or brown, or any of the japanese/korean gooie rice (yum).

    Six months ago I gave in and splurged on one of those Japanese super smart rice cooker - the smallest size for $150.00(yikes!). Worth every penny since the hubby can now make rice instead of wait for me. ;)

    On brown rice - I am still trying to find out which kind/source/brand PF Chang Restaurants use...they are the best. Any PF Chang employees out there that can spy for us?

  22. I just love this post! :) I also use finger method to cook my rice and it always come out right. But no so much when I use cup measurement.

  23. Mom taught me to cook rice back when I was a wee lass. Probably around the same age you learned. It was always my job to make sure there was rice for the meals. She also taught me to rinse 3 times and to use the first line of the finger trick, but this didn't work when I taught hubby.

    Now we always use 1.5 cups water to every cup of rice. Works every time for jasmine and basmati rice, no matter what the cooking instructions say. For short grain (calrose) rice we use one to one.

  24. For Spam,
    It's funny how universal that finger method is. I would make rice anyway, regardless of whether someone else eats it. Rice is for me!

    Oh I love dua chua and ca kho with plain jasmine rice too. Nothing beats the way rice just makes those flavors stand out.

    How come you haven't taught hubby the proper way to make rice yet? You make all these elaborate dishes and he can't do that? :P

    I'm not sure if rinsing really does make all that much of a difference either. I just like to make sure it's clean. And washing it means you can pick out any stray bits. I eat rice almost every day but a 20 lb sack will still last me for half a year.

    I didn't start cooking until my junior year of college when I moved out of the dorms. Rice and stir-fried cabbage were my cheap standbys.

    Oh no. I could never do minute rice. The taste and texture is all weird to me.

    I had forgotten I needed a stepstool when I started too! $150 for a mini Japanese rice cooker! My $15 one from Target works just fine. You know there's another DP right? You might be the first DP in my life, but not the first DP to comment on my blog. ;)

    Haha. This was one of my lazy posts, yet it's gotten so many comments. I guess rice is one of those universal things that everyone can comment on!

    I use the same amount of water for short grain rice. More for brown rice. Basmati I soak first before cooking.

  25. Ah I lurrrve rice .... hehe ... I wonder if Vietnamese jasmine rice tastes different from Thai jasmine rice?? I've only recently started to learn how to cook nice rice, and I still have to use a measuring cup all the time, hee

  26. Hey I just saw the other DP. ;) I don't know how to post a photo so we can tell the difference. Can you reach out to the other DP and let her know that I'm always a lowercase "dp" ... does she have to be the same? ;)

  27. Wiffy,
    I think VNese and Thai jasmine rice is the same. But VNese and Thai sticky rice are different. Different grains.

    I can tell you two apart because you don't have a photo and she does. ;)

  28. WC - If you buy the 50lb sack, it's $38, cheaper by weight than the smaller sacks. We go in on a sack with friends and split it up. Anything to save a penny, these days.

  29. $20 for enough rice for a year? That's less than 40c/week!!!! It'd be cheap at twice the price! I love my rice too, but prefer basmati. My rice cooker is my best friend, and is also fantabulous for quinoa and millet (anything needing to be cooked via the absorbtion method really).

  30. Vicki,
    That's a great idea. I really just don't eat that much though. Lil' sis and I split the 20 lb sack and we're still working our way through it.

    Haha! Yeah, rice is still dirt cheap. I was just used to it being dirt cheaper. ;)

  31. I live in the Seattle area and the Three Ladies that I've seen around here is from Thailand. Is it as good?


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