Puto Maya (Sticky Rice)

Puto maya as we call it back home in Cebu, is a traditional breakfast for us best eaten hot with fresh mango and a hot chocolate drink (pure cacao) served in a demitasse.

In Australia, you can find this in most Thai restaurants under their dessert menu. But like many southeast Asian dishes, this dish is shared among rice-growing countries in the region that also use coconut milk in their cooking. Give us rice and coconut, and we will give you a meal as we say back home. 

In my hometown, there are places that specialise in making puto maya. It is so popular that if you get there at 7am, chances are there’s nothing left. They start serving at 4am! 

A very humble dish of a rice-growing country, it is a peasant’s every day food.

Most often, it is made of white glutinous rice, but a little luxury is to add some purple glutinous rice. Note that the purple glutinous rice takes twice the cooking time, so I will outline how to overcome this so the rice granules of both white and purple glutinous rice are cooked evenly.


(Note: in some places back home, they add sugar in their mixture, that is okay as well. We prefer not to and leave it to the person to add the sugar on their own serving).

  • Glutinous white rice (1kg)
  • pinch of salt
  • slivers of ginger
  • coconut milk  (2 large cans)

Cooking utensils:

  • a steamer or if you don’t have one, buy a bamboo steamer that goes on top of any wok
  • deep mixing bowl
  • rubber spatula or a wooden spoon

Try to familiarise yourself first cooking this with just the white glutinous rice. Once you’re comfortable with it, then you can try mixing some purple glutinous rice.

In a deep mixing bowl, add the coconut milk and pinch of salt, mix together. Then add the glutinous rice and slivers of ginger. Cover with a cling wrap. Leave for 1-2 hrs. This step allows the rice to absorb the coconut milk and the ginger to infuse. Soaking also cuts your cooking time.

Now assemble your steamer, it must be running boiling water. Transfer the glutinous rice into your steamer. If your steamer have big holes, a good trick is to line your steamer with a muslin cloth (or even a tea towel). Make some holes on the rice to allow the steam to get through. Cover and steam for about 20-30 mins. If you have leftover coconut milk, drizzle it into the rice. Use a wooden spoon or a spatula and a folding motion so you don’t break the granules while mixing.

The rice granules turn glossy when it’s cooked.

When you’re ready to experiment with purple glutinous rice, here’s what you need to do:

  • use about 1 cup of purple glutinous rice for every kilo of white rice
  • soak it first in boiled water for about 1 hr.
  • prepare your white glutinous rice as per above, then add the soaked purple glutinous rice.

Remember purple glutinous rice has a different texture, it’s firmer and crunchier. So your goal is to soften by pre-soaking ahead of the white glutinous rice so when you mix it together, they are of the same texture, and cook evenly.

Freezing sticky rice

I often get asked, “can you freeze sticky rice?” If you’re time-poor as I am, then making a big batch makes sense. Yes I have frozen sticky rice and yes, I have messed it up as well. But over time, I found that the best way to warm frozen sticky rice, is to re-steam it. Kind of defeats the purpose? Not at all, it’s nothing different than having to steam frozen dumplings. 

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