Growing up in Uttaradit province in northern Thailand, Sak Pollert loved sticky rice, the regional dietary staple. For four generations, his family has grown kow neow -- the opaque, white, sticky rice variety and kao niow dahm -- unmilled black sticky rice that puffs and turns purple when it is cooked. Last fall, he opened a Thai restaurant on 14th Street NW and named it Rice to honor his family.
"This rice is our life," says Pollert, who also owns Simply Home, a nearby Thai-inspired home furnishings shop. "And even though we ate it with every meal, even for dessert with mangos, I'd sneak into the kitchen and grab a little whenever I could."
In Thailand, sticky rice is traditionally eaten with the fingers after it has been rolled into a bite-sized ball. Also called sweet rice or glutinous rice, sticky rice contains different starches than, let's say, jasmine or basmati. The characteristic chewy texture is achieved by steaming rather than boiling.
In the Rice kitchen, cooks soak raw sticky rice in hot water for 30 minutes. It's then transferred to a conical, woven-bamboo basket that rests atop a pot to steam. In 25 minutes, it's fully cooked.
Flavorings come next. Pungent turmeric, powdered green tea or an aromatic extract of pandon leaves that Pollert calls "Asian vanilla" are whisked until blended with coconut milk. One by one, a portion is added to different bowls of steamed rice.
Pollert pairs red curry with green pandon rice and a stir-fry of vegetables with yellow turmeric rice. "It lets me complement on the plate both flavors and colors," he says.
A three-part sticky rice sampler is $4. This summer, Rice will feature two new flavors: watermelon and orange zest. "All done just like in my hometown," says Pollert.
Rice, 1608 14th St. NW; call 202-234-2400.
Want to make sticky rice at home? Steaming baskets and sticky rice brands such as Sanpatong and Three Ring are available at: Duangrat Oriental Food Mart, 5888 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church; call 703-578-0622 and Thai Market, 902 Thayer Ave., Silver Spring; call 301-495-2779.
-- Walter Nicholls