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Sticky rice – khao niao

Sticky rice – khao niao

In Thailand, glutinous rice or sticky rice is known as khao niao. It is a stable in the daily diets of people in the northern and northeastern (also known as the Isan province) regions of Thailand, but is popular throughout the country.

I didn’t know about sticky rice until I came to Thailand, and even then it took a while before I truly discovered and learned how to appreciate it. But on a trip to visit a Thai family in the Isan province during Sonkran last year, I had sticky rice every day at every meal for a week, and have loved it ever since. I think it is delicious! Both with savory dishes and in desserts.

What does sticky rice look like?

In the featured picture above, sticky rice is at the left and jasmine rice mixed with red rice at the right. The grains are almost equal in size, but you will see, that jasmine rice is yellowish and slightly translucent, whereas sticky rice is much whiter and opaque.

Sticky rice also comes in a black version, often used in desserts.

It goes under various names such as waxy, sweet and pearly, and is also known under the name “glutinous rice”. Which is a bit misleading, as there is no gluten in sticky rice. It could refer to the fact, that after steaming the rice it turns sticky, just like glue. In any case, it is safe to eat for those of you who want to avoid gluten.

Where to buy sticky rice:

Rice vendorIn Thailand, it is available at any market selling rice. Just ask for khao niao.

This is a picture of my local rice vendor down the road. The buckets of rice in the back row are sticky rice, and as you can see it comes at different price levels. Since it is so cheap, I always buy her best quality. She also sells cooked sticky rice dished out in small plastic bags or banana leaves, which is often the easy option if getting a sudden craving for sticky rice.

Abroad, you can get it at well-stocked supermarkets and Asian specialty markets. You can also order sticky rice online.

Why is sticky rice sticky?

The starch in rice is made up of two kinds of components: amylose and amylopectin. In glutinous rice, the starch is almost entirely amylopectin, which is the reason why it is so sticky. Other types of rice have a higher portion of amylose.

How to cook sticky rice:

Sticky rice is used in many recipes throughout Thailand. It is steamed, not boiled. Along with choosing the right type of grain, steaming is crucial in achieving the characteristic sticky, but at the same time fluffy texture.

Unless you buy it ready to eat from a street vendor or at the local market, it takes a little bit of planning to serve sticky rice, as it needs to soak for at least 6 hours before steaming. But so does beans, so it is just a matter of thinking ahead.

For detailed instructions on how to cook sticky rice, click here: How to cook sticky rice.

How do you eat sticky rice?

If eaten in the home, the rice is usually placed in a cylinder-shaped bamboo serving basket called a kratip khao. A large portion of sticky rice is cooked in the morning to be eaten throughout the day. The basket keeps it soft and from getting hard at the edges. At meal times the basket is placed in the center of the eating area and everyone grabs a handful directly from the basket.

If ordering sticky rice with your meal at a restaurant it is usually served in individual portion sizes in smaller baskets.

The traditional way to eat plain sticky rice is with your hands: Take a small piece of sticky rice, form small balls with the rice, and dip it into the other dishes.

It is eaten with certain foods, and definitely not with others. You are of course free to do as you like, but here is a list of dishes, that you would typically eat with sticky rice:

  • Som Tam
  • Larb
  • Moo Nam Tok
  • Satay

Some hate it, some love it. I am (as you might have gathered) counted among those who love eating sticky rice!  With Som Tam and barbecued chicken! Or with Moo Nam Tok. Or in the shape of the famous dessert “sticky rice w/mango”. Simply delicious!

Please leave a note below, as I would love to hear about your experiences with sticky rice – either in Thailand or at home.



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