Thursday, July 4, 2013

Survival Travel Food - The Ubiquitous Fried Rice

Took from the buffet line of One World Hotel Hi-Tea. One of the best fried rice.

Fried rice has been around since the eureka moment when moms tried to find ways to recycle their left-over rice. Each Chinese family up to as late as 2 generations ago would cook more rice than can be eaten. It is mainly because of superstition and for good luck. The leftover is a sign of abundance in the family and signify that food will never run out.

Mom would heat up the wok and drizzled some oil on it. She would then throw in some chopped garlic. It will be fried till brown and with the fragrance wafting through the air. The “yesterday’s” rice went in followed by generous sprinkling of soy sauce. The final product would be a plate of good food where the main component used was not fresh. What an irony!

I like my fried rice with the grains loose, fluffy and non-starchy. This can only be achieved with yesterday’s rice. It has a way of making the rice much less starchy. When fried it will not lump together but rather each grains will be separated from each other. With a strong fire it will be aromatic and have a strong wok-hei. It can be enhanced by putting in some crunchy diced vegetables and a ‘ton’ of fresh prawns. Topping it with a fried egg or cracking an egg on the wok and stirring the rice in will complete great comfort dish.

In many Cantonese restaurants dishing out fried rice is a skill that is hard to master for the apprentice. An equivalent in the western kitchen may be in the making a great omelet. So easy, yet so hard! The final frontier is how to get the egg into a wok of piping hot fried rice and by stirring, to lightly coat every single grain of rice! Of course, I am exaggerating but then that’s the goal to shoot for the Chinese chef.

Fried rice is a comfort food for many in Malaysia. As a frequent traveller, I go for fried rice for a quick psychological boost as it reminds me of home-cooked food. This gives me an “endorphin rush”. Honestly, there is nothing like having a full stomach of my familiar food in a faraway land.

It is also easily available as it is easy to cook. Any little shack of an eating joint can fried one up. It may be dilapidated and run down from age or built up from a patch up work of discarded materials. I just loved it sitting down in the heat of the day and sweating in some place far away like Mae Chan working on a project and still get my plate of fried rice.

One of the first words I learned in a foreign language will be fried rice. Language learning begins with food that I like. Progress will find its way from then on. Once you can say nasi goreng and khao phad, you won’t starve in at least 6 countries! An Indian friend of mine learned these magical words, “chow fan” and he is able to order his food like a pro in the Chinese Tai Chow in the 80’s, where food habit is still very much provincial and insular.

Finally, fried rice is always a clean food. As it has to be eaten immediately, there is no chance for flies to land on the hot plate of rice. Flies will only be dangerous they have a chance to do their thing on the food. It means cold food and left unattended. I have eaten fried rice in stalls with lots of flies and came out unscathed. Just remember, focus on ordering and eating just off the wok/pot/pan hot food.

How about flies landing on the plates, bowls and cutlery? My rule of thumb: generally flies land on food and drinks and not on bare utensils. Check and see if their dishes are clean, dry and not greasy. Then proceed with ordering your food. So don’t freak out! Go enjoy your fried rice!

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