Wednesday, March 4, 2009
Sticky Rice and Alms Giving in Luang Prabang
Sticky rice steamer is a Lao cooking school.
The traditional rice serving basket is called a gateep.
A double boiler used as a steamer for sticky rice.
Each morning as roosters greet first light, the sun begins to arc and the hazy rice paddies of Luang Prabang become tinged in pink and gold. This city wakens gently. Rice pots are set to steam and soon after temple drums begin a rhythmic signal that marks the beginning of a ritual as old as the Buddha himself. The morning alms procession (Tak Bat) is a living Buddhist tradition that has great meaning for the people of Luang Prabang. Monks file out of monasteries in lines that resemble threads of saffron swaying in the breeze. Townsfolk take their places on the side of the road, rice baskets in hand, to repeat, yet again, the ancient custom of giving alms. The men stand, shoulders covered in white scarfs. The women sit on stools or kneel. No one wears shoes. This is a silent procession; the stillness is broken only by strutting, crowing roosters and the scuffing of feet on hammered earth. The alms basket of each monk receives a ball of sticky rice from the right hand of every person along the route. Only the right hand may be used. The monks receive sustenance. The townspeople gain merit which they believe will bring them happiness, a peaceful life and strength to overcome any obstacles or misfortune that they might encounter. And what did I, an outsider, receive? I was strangely moved by the piety of givers and receivers and the nearly perfect silence of the procession; for a few precious moments my world stood still and I was suspended in time in a place that could be called Shangri-La.
In northern Thailand and Laos, sticky rice is served at every meal, much like bread in Europe ot the United States. The rice is soaked, then steamed and traditionally served in a wicker basket called a gateep. Diners, using their right hand, scoop a couple of tablespoons of rice at a time into a small ball, then use it to pick up a chunk of meat or vegetable, or to soak up sauces. It can be served hot, warm or at room temperature.
2 cups sticky (also called glutinous) rice
Water for soaking and steaming
1) Cover rice with 2 to 3 inches cold water in a large bowl and soak at room temperature for at least 3 or as long as 12 hours.
2) Place a steamer basket or a footed colander over the base of a steamer containing about 4 inches of water. Rinse rice until water runs clear; drain, place in steamer basket, and steam, covered, over boiling water until shiny and tender, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat. Let sit, covered, for 5 minutes. Gather rice into a mound and transfer to a serving dish or a gateep (a coverered serving basket). Yield: 4 servings.
Cook's and Traveler's Note: Many cultures still prefer to eat using traditional methods — their hands. In these cases, food is often offered communally, which is why it’s important to wash your hands before eating and observe the right-hand-is-for-eating and the left-hand-is-for-other-duties rule. If you eat with your left hand, expect your fellow diners to be mortified. And when partaking from a communal bowl, stick to a portion that’s closest to you. Do not get greedy and plunge your hand into the center. If you are left-handed, attempt to be ambidextrous — even children who are left-handed in these cultures are taught to eat with their right hand — or at least explain yourself to your fellow diners before plunging in.