Tag Archives: rice

Rice Cakes Roundup

It’s Foodie Tuesday!

Different rice varieties. Photo from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) via Wikimedia Commons

I have established in a previous post that rice is the ultimate absolute indispensable carb in Asia. As the all-important crop and the ever-present pantry staple, peoples and cultures from every nook and cranny of this continent have gotten creative with it. Different countries have come up with a mind-boggling number of ways to enjoy this most ubiquitous of grains — from savory appetizers and entrees, to sweet snacks and desserts.

Let’s check out one itty-bitty section of this rice universe — the rice cakes. Loosely defined, a rice cake is any cake that’s made of, er, rice. With such a broad definition, no wonder there are so many of them! The rice part can take on many forms: some rice cakes use whole grains of rice, some use sticky rice, some use rice flour, and some use ground rice paste. Factor in different combinations of ingredients, different cultures, different seasons, and you’ll get the idea of how many different kinds of rice cakes there are. Here are some of the most celebrated.


In the Philippines sweet treats that are made of rice fall under the umbrella classification kakanin, from the root word kanin, which is the Tagalog term for cooked rice. The traditional main ingredient is galapong, which is a rice paste made by grinding rice that has been soaked overnight. Apparently the overnight soaking releases some kind of yeast that helps the rice cakes rise.

The most popular rice cake is the puto, because it has a mild subtle flavor and only slightly sweetened, one can really eat a lot of it. It is a steamed cake made from galapong, sugar, and coconut milk. My dad often tells stories of how his family used to have a puto business when he was a boy. He would grind up the soaked rice in a big stone grinder, then my grandmother would prepare the batter and steam it in a large round tray. When the puto was all done, my dad would cut it up into wedges and peddle them around the neighborhood. Nowadays we just buy our puto and they’re usually in mini-muffin sizes. Check out this puto recipe by Cafe Munchkin.

Beautiful, white puto. Image from Cafe Munchkin.

Another popular kakanin is bibingka, and it also begins with galapong, to which eggs, coconut milk and sugar are added. It is cooked between two layers of hot coals in a vessel lined with banana leaf, which brings a most flavorful smokiness to it. The final product is usually topped with salted egg and white cheese, with some grated coconut on the side.

Bibingka. Photo by Jun Belen.

Biko, on the other hand, is not made from galapong. It is made from whole grains of sticky rice, coconut milk, and raw sugar.

Biko. Image from The Longest Way Home.


Sakura mochi is named thus because it is meant to look like sakura, cherry blossom. It is so pretty! It is widely popular during Japan’s Girls’ Festival. It is colored a delicate pale pink and wrapped in a pickled cherry leaf. It is made from pounded up sweet sticky rice. A bite would yield a contrast of savory tartness from the leaf, smooth sweet from the rice, with a suprise flood of red bean paste hidden in its center.

Pretty, pretty mochi


What is Lunar New Year without Nian Gao (literally, “Year Cake”)? It is usually emblazoned with good luck words, and it is consumed during the big family feast, with the hope that the luck will be absorbed, and that the stickiness and sweetness will bind the family closer together.

Nian Gao

Nian Gao can be sliced up and pan-fried so that a crust forms on the outside as the insides melt into sticky, gooey yumminess.


Ddeok is the generic term for Korean rice cakes that are made from glutinous rice flour. There is a celebratory vibe in ddeok, as it is associated with Korean holidays and feasts. These rice cakes are classified according to the way they are prepared: The old classic steamed ddeok, much like the Filipino puto; the pounded ddeok begin with cooked rice that has been beaten to a pulp (like mochi); boiled ddeok are shaped from a dough made from rice flour and hot water; and pan-fried ddeok are small and cute, and flat like pancakes  and fried.

Hwajeon, a type of fried ddeok that is embellished with flowers like azaleas and crysanthemums. Image from KNU Times.

One Grain To Rule Them All

One grain to find them,
One grain to bring them all
and in the darkness bind them.
(with apologies to JRR)

If the Dark Lord Sauron ever sought to rule our world, he would tactically want to get his evil hands on Asia first, with its ginormous land area and 4 billion strong population. And how would the power-hungry villain achieve control? Just by seizing the rice supply, he would have the earth in his thrall.

Uncooked rice grains

Rice is the Asian staple food, and is the foundation on which the typical meal is built—it ain’t a meal without it. Rice is the soothing subtlety that tames the fierce and strong flavors of the cuisine, the yin of tranquility to the yang of the intense spicy, salty, sour, or sweet. Aside from the classic steamed rice, Asian countries do their best to explore and exploit the versatility of this grain, making it into porridge or pudding, grinding it up as flour, or combining it with other ingredients to make hearty one-dish-meals.

Banaue Rice Terraces, Philippines. Image via Pixdaus

It is also marvelously filling, and packs enough joules to keep people jumping all day. That’s why a lot of Asians cringe at the thought of low-carb diets, because giving up rice is too painful. Case in point: I once decided to not eat rice for a month. I lived through it, but I was miserable, perpetually hungry, and increasingly grumpy.

Rice is so basic, so essential, that even when it is best grown in flat lands, people manage–by sheer force of will–to grow this grain in places where nature said it couldn’t.

Rice is undeniably Asia’s power source. This continent runs on it.
If you’d like a first-hand experience of the rice phenomenon, but can’t hop on a plane right now, you can bring the experience to your own home. Go on a cultural food trip and try out these 5 easy rice recipes from 5 Asian countries.

Pilaf – India – Tomato Rice

Indian Tomato Rice

Image from mykitchenantics.blogspot.com

There are many variations of this dish in India, with different degrees of complicated-ness, but this one’s an easy fool-proof recipe from a busy mom. Thanks for sharing this, Chitra!

1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon cumin
2 large tomatoes, diced
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon chili powder
a handful of chopped cabbage
3 cups rice
3 ¾ cups water
and salt

Saute the first 6 ingredients in a rice cooker or pot. Wash and drain the rice and add it to the the pot/cooker with the water. Season with salt. If using a rice cooker, you can just leave it, coming back only to give it a stir halfway through the cooking process. For stovetop cooking, bring it up to a boil, then down to a simmer, stirring to mix everything through before all the water is absorbed.

Fried Rice – Indonesia – Nasi Goreng

Indonesian fried rice

Nasi Goreng literally means “fried rice”. Such a broad definition means that there is every conceivable version of it, from street food to fine dining. This one can be your very own kitchen version.

2 tablespoons oil
1 shallot
1 garlic
1 red chili (seeded)
1/2 teaspoon toasted belacan (shrimp paste)
1/2 teaspoon palm sugar
1/2 tablespoon kecap manis (sweet soy sauce)
8 oz. overnight rice
1 fried egg, well done, for topping

I would just saute the shallot and garlic in the oil, then add everything else. But if I wanted to elevate the dish a bit and complicate my life just a little, then I would follow the directions given here.

Pudding – Thailand – Coconut Rice Pudding with Mango (Kai Neuw Mamuang)

Thai coconut pudding with mango

This is a lovely Thai dessert that is surprisingly easy to make — it has only 6 ingredients and there are no special gadgets needed.

Porridge – Philippines – Arroz Caldo

Filipino rice porridge

Image from Wikimedia Commons

The name is Spanish for rice soup (arroz=rice, caldo=broth). This is the ultimate Filipino comfort food, perfect for rainy days, sick days, or sad days. Recipe from my sister Lulu.

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon garlic, chopped
2 pieces of thumb-sized ginger, julienned
Chicken pieces (from half a chicken)
2 cups uncooked rice, washed and drained
4 cups water (if using boneless chicken, use the same volume in chicken stock)
fish sauce or salt to taste
optional: 1 teaspoon of dried safflower, for color
optional toppings: chopped chives, toasted garlic, sliced boiled eggs, squeeze of calamondin or lime

Saute garlic and ginger until garlic has some color. Add the chicken, and let it cook for a bit — around 5 minutes. Add the rice and the water. A little fish sauce and pepper. Give it a stir and bring up to a boil. For a creamy consistency, stir continuously until the rice is tender like risotto. If you want a thinner porridge, adjust with more water or chicken stock. Taste and adjust the seasoning before serving.

Rice Topping – Japan – Chirashi Sushi

Easy sushi

Image from Wikimedia Commons

Like sushi but don’t have the patience or the skill to make those exquisite little bites? Here’s how a lot of Japanese families do it, with minimum fuss and maximum enjoyment. It’s just your basic vinegared rice laid out on a large dish, topped with your choice of sushi toppings. If you like raw seafood, lay it on; if not, then just go for cucumber slices, mushrooms and nori strips.

Here’s a step-by-step video guide on making sushi rice.

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