Since moving to China I have had a hard time finding good rice since I can't buy based on the package anymore (language barrier) and I need to figure out how to choose rice by sight/smell/feel. A lot of the rice here is starchy and flavourless, cooking up very opaque with not much texture. I like rice to have some fragrance but the texture is most important. My thoughts are I should be looking for rice with shorter, rounder grains.
I notice other shoppers smelling the kernels, any idea what they are looking for? And I notice that in the markets some rice is labeled 'new rice' or 'this year's rice', would this rice have more flavour than other types, or less?
Any light that can be shed would be greatly appreciated.
You'll have to buy different types and take notes to try to establish what you like. Most Chinese rices are Indica "Green Revolution" type rices like IR72 or 74; and China does produce hybrids. They do not produce much Japonica rice--Japanese style stickier rices with shorter grain and low amylose content. Newly harvested rices are a bit more aromatic and better flavored than older stored rices.
Doesn't 'new rice' also require less cooking water? Maybe, if you've been buying new rice and using your standard water-to-rice ratios that you would have used back home, you are actually using too much water. That might be another reason why your finished rice has little texture.
When I lived in Asia, I was told to increase the water-to-rice ratio as the rice got older. Actually, I should write: decrease the ratio as the rice gets younger. In North American (and I'm assuming that's where you developed your ratio habits), the standard ratios are based on 'old rice'. Unfortunately, I can't remember the new rice ratios anymore... it's been a while. Maybe someone else can?