colorful rice

Spring in Yunnan Means Rice in Every Color

The Dai people of Yunnan enjoy rice in every color as part of their peacock feast


hile most assume rice, a staple of many a Chinese meal, is just a plain white grain, in southwestern China, such as Yunnan and Guangxi, it can come in all the colors of the rainbow. Every spring, rice dyed with many plants and flowers from the region absorb all the colors and fragrances of nature, while the local ethnic groups such as Dai, Zhuang, Miao, and Bouyei prepare colored rice in a range of dishes.

“Yellow Rice Flower” mixed with other colorful Yunnan rice

“Yellow Rice Flower” rice

There is a flower and plant to produce every color of rice one could wish for. To dye the rice green, cooks soak the rice in water infused with the nyonya flower (娘惹花). For blue rice, chefs use butterfly pea (蝶豆花). To give the rice a rosy glow, the secret is a plant known as “rose eggplant (玫瑰茄).” This rose-colored rice is also said to dissolve alcohol and make one’s face less flushed after drinking.

For a yellow-colored rice, locals pick Himalayan butterfly bush (密蒙花), also known as the “yellow rice flower,” that blooms in April. The flowers are boiled in water that is then used to soak the rice before it’s steamed in a wooden barrel. The rice emerges tinged yellow and infused with the floral taste of the plant. According to Dai folklore, this cooking method was discovered by accident when some of the flowers fell into a steaming rice barrel, producing a delicious taste and tender texture.

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author Wang Lin (王琳)

Wang Lin is a contributing writer at The World of Chinese who aspires to tell fresh stories about life, arts and culture in China—no prejudice, no clichés. Her writing has appeared on Nikkei Asia, the South China Morning Post, RADII, and elsewhere. She was born in Ningbo, a bustling port known for its dumplings and seafood.

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