Grain waves: three types of rice popular in Hong Kong
Depending on the dish, different varieties of rice give different results
With two rice growing seasons a year, Yi O has had the chance to experiment with a number of cultivars. Most of the rice eaten in southern China stems from the Oryza sativa indica subspecies (known in Chinese as “xian”), such as jasmine. However, the shorter grain Oryza sativa japonica (called “geng” in Chinese) that is common in Japan and Taiwan, is also gaining popularity here.
Known for its glossiness, you zhan, meaning oil rice, has a slightly higher fat content and leaves a sheen in whatever vessel it was cooked. Part of the indica family, it is a medium-grain variety, and the cooked rice has a bit of bite. For many cooks, you zhan is the preferred type for congee – it yields a more velvety texture. Because the grain is traditionally produced in smaller quantities, it fetches a higher price. The variety has given rise to numerous hybrids, and this lineage is often noted with the word “zhan” in the name.
Called si miao in Putonghua (see mew in Cantonese) , it’s one of the most popular types of rice in Hong Kong for its distinctive fragrance and its starchiness.When cooked, these medium to long grains absorb significant amounts of water and almost double in size. The more water added to the cooking process, the easier it clumps and becomes sticky, but it loses its texture and fragrance.
Sticky, short-grain types from the japonica family are most closely associated with Taiwanese and Japanese styles of rice. In Hong Kong, they are often grouped under a single name, “pearl” rice, for the translucent pearly sheen and round shape. While also grown in southern China, it is unlikely that it is a traditional cultivar of the region.