Sticky rice for me is Laos. Whenever I see it or read it on a menu, I am always transported back to Laos. Kao Neaw was the first and really the only Laos word I know. The first time I went to Laos, I must of had it at least twice a day for a month. This time I limited myself to just once a day. Sometimes.
It's actually quite a complicated and time consuming rice to cook. First it has to be soaked over night. The the next day it is washed several times to remove any grit or unwanted bits. It is then steamed in a conical type bamboo pot over boiling water for at least an hour. After this it is turned out onto a clean surface and kneaded with a wooden paddle. This, I was told results in the rice balls that will stick to eachother but not to your fingers. Ingenious. It is stored in a bamboo basket until ready to eat. This keeps it sticky but dry, not wet and gummy.
In restaurants we get it in a small bamboo basket with a lid. You take a small amount and roll it into a ball with your right hand. You then dip into the sauce on your plate or break off a piece of meat or fish and eat then together. It really is heaven. In fact I am sure I have never had normal white rice in Laos. There is no need. The Laotians are quite superstitious, as when you have finished eating the rice, you have to put the lid back on. This ensures a good harvest for the following year.
It is really quite funny to watch people who have never eaten sticky rice before try and eat it with chopstix or a fork. The Laos who work in restaurants must keep their whole house awake at night telling the stories of the Farang eating sticky rice with chopstix. Badly as well. I saw it so many times and it is really funny.
Without sticky rice Laos would fall apart. I have seen everyone from young to old munching on it at varies times of the day. Everyone seems to have a small bag of it, either with some dip or meat or just on its own. But everyone is eating it. In bus stations you get women selling bamboo tubes full of dyed sticky rice with coconut. It's a great sweet. Really delsih......
Plus it is what they make Lao Lao from. The sometimes good, sometimes bad rice whisky. Which I have seen people drink at all times of the day.
In Luang Prabang I saw hundreds of little rice cakes drying on bamboo slats outside houses. Strangely I never actually saw how these were eaten.
It's going to be weird to start eating normal white rice again. At least in Northern Thailand I can still get my fix.