11 July 2024

Just about every subject can be controversial in the digital era. This time, it’s the way rice is cooked. A video in which Malaysian comedian Nigel Ng, who goes by the name “Uncle Roger” mocks (read criticizes) the method for cooking rice as shown on the BBC Food Chanel, has gone viral, receiving several million hits. And all he was doing was making funny remarks about the “wrong” actions, such as draining rice in a colander and washing the rice excessively.

Such a harmless satire is perfect for drawing the attention of foodies and teaching then how to (really) cook perfect rice, which is the staple in many Asian countries including Thailand. The Western way may not be totally wrong but there are many methods that guarantee success in cooking delicious rice every time.

The most convenient way is to cook rice in an electric cooker. Forget the hassles of judging the right ratio of water to rice: electric rice cookers come with recommended portions and measurement cups so there is little chance your rice will be too soggy or too hard.

The latest rice cookers feature various functions that make preparing rice a breeze. You can cook normal rice, sticky rice and rice porridge in the same cooker. And now there’s a new type of cooker that can be used to make bread and cake too.

But in fact Thai rice can be cooked perfectly even without an electric rice cooker. Rice has been a Thai staple for time immemorial and cooking it in the old days was not quite as quick and easy. Let’s take a look at traditional ways that Thai people used to (or still) cook rice.

Indeed, cooking rice was perfected long before the invention of the electric rice cooker.  As you’d expect, this requires skill and control as it was all done on a charcoal stove.

The most common way is the boiling method (หุงข้าวแบบเช็ดน้ำ). The rice is first boiled at high heat until the grains start to cook, at which point the water is drained and cooking continues over a very low heat. The process is called Dong Khao (ดงข้าว) and the pot must be moved around regularly to ensure the rice cooks evenly and thoroughly.

Start by rinsing the rice to remove the starch, then add a lot of water (about 4-5 times the rice) to keep the rice from sticking. Boil over high heat until the rice grains are almost cooked, then pour out the excess water. Turn the heat down to low, gently moving the pot from side to side until all the water has evaporated and you get the fluffiest grains.


Another slightly easier method is absorption. This is the opposite of the boiling method as you don’t need to drain any water. (หุงข้าวไม่เช็ดน้ำ) However, it needs skill and the heat must be precisely controlled to make perfect rice.

Start by rinsing the rice and adding water. The amount of water is crucial in this method and measuring it correctly requires expertise. Some people use their fingers or the palm of their hand, allowing the water to pass through their hands. The water used is approximately 1.25 times that of the rice. This applies to most jasmine rice though slightly less may be used depending on the hardness of the rice. The rice is boiled until it is cooked and the grains allowed to absorb water until dry. In the past, Thais used  a clay pot to cook rice but later switched to an aluminum pot, which became the forerunner of today’s electric rice cooker.

Another method is steaming rice. This method uses the heat from steam to cook the rice. After washing the rice, divide the rice into small containers. Add enough water,  using the same ratio as the absorption method ( 1: 1 + ¾ for brown rice). Many people still use this method today.

A microwave oven can also be used to cook rice. The principle is the same as the absorption method. Wash the rice, add the right amount of water and pop it in the microwave for delicious grains. This method is popular among those living in a small apartment as well as for Thais living abroad.

To ensure success in cooking the perfect rice, it’s important to know whether the grains are from an old or new crop. You can usually find that information on the package. Old rice and new rice need different amounts of water. The old rice uses more water. The water ratio for cooking rice is 1:1 for fragrant jasmine rice.

Many people today prefer brown rice and other unpolished grains. These rice types need more water so check the information on the packet for the recommended water proportion.

Believe us, practice makes perfect. Once you master any of these methods, you will become a pro and cook perfect rice every time.