This summer I spent 3 weeks in Guangxi and Guangdong provinces visiting some of my students. One of the places I visited in Guangxi was Debao County, a remote mountainous region near the Vietnamese border.
While in Debao, one of my student’s friends wanted to teach me how to make bamboo rice, which is the method of cooking sticky rice in bamboo poles over an outdoor fire. Because it is a slow process, this is normally something that children in Debao do for fun. Adults generally don’t have the time or patience for it. I guess in this region children learn how to use machetes at a young age. Making rice in bamboo poles takes time, but the finished steamed rice is incredibly fragrant from being cooked inside the bamboo. I’m outlining the process for you in case you want to make this at home (and have a machete).
Start by using a machete to chop down some bamboo. Use strong, dark green poles of bamboo. Wash it well. We washed ours in the stream.
You will steam the rice in hollow sections of the bamboo. The sections are marked by the horizontal lines on the outside of the bamboo. Use a knife to cut a hole in one of the horizontal dividing walls inside the bamboo. The hole should be a little less than an inch in diameter.
In a large bowl, combine raw sticky rice with room temperature water, and add a little salt. My friends didn’t measure any of this. Use a soup spoon to scoop rice into the bamboo. Then use a chopstick to push the rice around until it goes through the hole. If you get ahead of yourself and put several spoonfuls of rice over the hole before pushing it through, it will be harder to push through. Just be patient and use a spoonful or two at a time. You might want to have one person spoon the rice and another person using a chopstick to push the rice through the hole.
When you think the rice has filled the section of the bamboo to the halfway point (you can use a chopstick as a dipstick to measure the level of the rice), then stop adding rice, and pour water into the hole to fill the section of bamboo with water. To close the hole, shove a big carrot into the hole to seal it. When it’s finished cooking, the roasted carrot is edible.
Repeat this process with as many bamboo poles as you are using.
Make a fire outside using wood, and ideally include bamboo branches and leaves for fuel. Place the bamboo poles on the fire, only 2 at a time. Roast over the fire until it is cooked. My friends did not set a specific time for roasting. One benefit of cooking bamboo rice is that the rice won’t burn inside the bamboo, as it might in a metal pot. The bamboo walls will keep the rice moist. The bamboo pole will char a bit, which is fine. However if the bamboo gets hot enough after charring to actually catch on fire, then pull it away from the fire. You don’t want the bamboo rice cooking longer than that.
Pull out the roasted carrot with tongs.
Use a machete or large knife to cut open the bamboo, lengthwise.
Scoop out the sticky rice, or eat it straight out of the bamboo as a bowl.