I love rice.
Even though I have limited real estate on my kitchen counter, my rice cooker has a permanent dedicated space. Food processor, mixer, slow cooker — all relegated to the pantry or even the garage. But the rice cooker is used too often to put away. I’ve been known to make a full meal out of rice with just butter, salt and pepper.
So a new restaurant called Sticky Rice certainly got my attention. I’ll admit, though, that I was a bit wary. That’s because Sticky Rice moved into a small space on Colonial Drive in the Mills 50 district that in a very short span of time has been home to at least two (and I think three) really disappointing restaurants.
But those memories faded during my visit to SR. The food is good, the staff, though not especially warm or fuzzy, work hard, and the overall experience is positive.
You might classify Sticky Rice as another Asian street food restaurant. But unlike Hawkers and Mamak, which are pan-Asian, or even Rasa, with its focus on South Asian and Indo-Chinese cuisine, Sticky Rice sticks with the foods of Laos.
The food item from which the restaurant takes its name is ubiquitous in that Southeast Asian country. According to one source, the Lao sometimes refer to themselves as luk khao niaow, or children of sticky rice.
The dish couldn’t be simpler. If you’re familiar with the Chinese or Vietnamese versions, which usually include meats and seasonings with the rice cooked inside lotus leaves, you’ll find Laotian sticky rice quite different.
That’s because the only ingredient is rice, which is cooked by steaming. (My rice cooker would be essentially useless with this particular grain.) It’s a highly glutinous type of rice, but before you gluten freedom fighters freak out, you should know that despite that designation it is gluten free.
If you were to buy some sticky rice from a vendor on the streets of Vientiane it might be served in the small bamboo steamer it was cooked in. On the streets of Orlando, it is served in a small plastic bag, looking like an individually wrapped snowball. Sticky rice is meant to be eaten with the fingers. Just pull off a wad and dip it into one of the two sauces that come with a serving here. Actually, only one, the lime chili sauce is dippable. The other, a chili paste with a bit of pork rinds, will have to be spread onto the rice. You might be surprised that the only ingredient is rice. When I tasted it after it had cooled I would have sworn I tasted coconut.
Of course, one can’t live by rice alone, much as I’d be willing to give it a try.
I also sampled the Sai Oua, a Lao sausage made with fatty pork and seasoned with lemongrass (and also traditionally made with some sticky rice in the blend). Also served simply, it had a distinctly sweet taste.
The young woman who took my order (it’s a quick-serve operation: order and pay at the counter then take your number to a table for delivery) said that the Pieng Gai, or Sticky Street Wings, was a popular item, so I tried those, too. The serving included two drummies and two wing sections that weren’t particularly sticky. They might have been better if they’d been more fully cooked. Mine were a bit chewy.
The decor is either mundane or colorful depending on which direction you’re facing. One wall of the small space looks sort of like an underground bunker or the bare wall of a prison cell. The other has a brightly painted mural that features a ganesh-like figure. Seating is at picnic-style tables with individual stools and each table has a large roll of paper towels to tear off as you wish and paper “boats” for sharing. Also, there’s a jar of moist towelettes for cleaning sticky fingers.
(For the faint of heart, there are plastic forks on the front counter.)
Sticky Rice is at 1915 E. Colonial Drive, Orlando. It is open for lunch and dinner daily. The phone number is 321-800-6352.