by Mala See
This is a story of making rice patties, or glutinous rice cakes, or in Lahu, “awˍ paw neh,” with my family.
For as long as I can remember, Lahu New year’s is a day of tradition and excitement. As Christians, it is also a day of celebrating and reflecting on the Lord’s goodness and faithfulness from the previous year and making plans to grow in my faith in the upcoming year. In Rochester, it has been a three-day celebration since the early 1990s. In California, Thailand, Laos, or China, where most of the Lahu people inhabit, it is a week-long celebration. I have nostalgic memories of getting dressed up in our cultural clothes that my mother had laboriously worked on through the year, my mother tying my hair up in a bun that is way too tight, singing, dancing, and competing in games with my friends.
How are the rice patties made?
Having children of my own has encouraged me to delve deeper into my cultural roots of the different traditions I participated in growing up. This year Dorkham and I hosted the rice patty-making in our home under my mother and father-in-law’s watchful guidance.
On the night of December 30th, I soaked about 25 lbs. of glutinous white sweet rice in water for about eight hours.
The following day on New year’s eve, I steamed all of the sticky rice (and then some that my father and mother-in-law brought). Historically, we used a five-foot homemade wooden pestle, lifted it over our heads, and heaved it into a five-gallon bucket to pound the sweet rice into a cohesive sticky dough. In recent years, we have discovered a Tiger brand mochi bread maker and that has been an immense blessing! The mochi bread maker caused no more sweat and tears to be shed while making the rice patties!
My brother-in-law was in charge of using the mochi bread maker and it took only 10 minutes to turn the sweet rice into a sticky dough. Dorkham lifted the dough onto a prepared counter. My mother-in-law had ground-up sesame seeds prepared ahead of time to help with the stickiness. My nephew scattered it on the counter and we dusted our hands with it as well. Once the dough was on the counter, Dorkham had to move fast to prevent loss of heat to the dough, as he pinched off baseball-sized balls and distributed them to all the little hands waiting to help. My father-in-law showed us how to tuck in the imperfections from areas where the dough was pinched off. With the dough still steaming hot, it was the ideal time to shape the dough in my hands. My mother-in-law came around with a spatula to help us flatten the rice patties. We have many more rice patties to make before they are wrinkle-free and circular the way my father-in-law makes them.
As with all cookie-making events in which cookie dough gets eaten or grows legs and walks off, the same is true when making rice patties! My niece formed a gigantic ball and ran off to eat it.
Why are so many rice patties made?
Each Lahu family packs four rice patties along with sweets, monetary gifts, and tea, and is used as a love gift to show respect to each of the Lahu elders; which includes parents, grandparents, pastors, brothers, and elders in the community. The elders in return will say a prayer of blessing (awˬ bon naˬ – aˉ she) for the family before they depart to the next home. In the evening, each family brings six rice patties, fruits, and drinks to the church where the formal tree ceremony occurs (Hk’awˬ yehˬ awˍ paw tanˇ). During the ceremony, the community will dance three rounds around the decorated tree and the Elder of the Lahu community or Pastor gives the prayer of praise. The Lahu community ends the ceremony by sitting together near the base of the tree to share the food that were brought.
What does the rice patty taste like?
There is no such thing as too many rice patties because you can freeze them and enjoy them throughout the year. The process is long, and so it is very convenient have frozen rice patties that you can brown in a hot skillet for 5 minutes per side and eat with a sprinkle of salt on top.
For those who are wondering what a roasted rice patty tastes like, I can best describe it as plain rice with just the faintest hint of underlying sweetness. The rice patty’s crispy outer shell, and the chewy gumminess on the inside, is the best part of the whole experience.
Mala See is married to Dorkham, mother to four children, a dental hygienist and a hobby photographer. She enjoys competitive game nights, sharing home cooked meals with her extended family and friends, hiking new places, serving in the Lahu service and teaching children’s Sunday school at Calvary.