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Fried rice: the Asian dish that conquered the world

 Fried rice is one of the best-known, consumed and appreciated dishes of Asian cuisine, not only in the East, but also in the Western hemisphere. Its basic ingredient is easy to obtain and prepare, and the other ingredients are diverse, according to the customs of the different national cuisines and the whims of personal tastes.

Humble origins

Apparently, the oldest version of fried rice was first prepared in China some five millennia ago, and despite its venerable antiquity, its origins are actually very humble. People in those times —when the possible loss of a single crop could mean starvation for the whole population of a region or country—, could not afford to waste even one grain of rice, whether raw or cooked.

Then, someone came up with the idea of taking steam-cooked rice that had not been eaten in the last meal, and mixing it with other leftovers —pieces of beef, pork or poultry, some fish or seafood, leftovers from salads and other vegetables... All this was cooked again in a frying pan, and the result was the first fried rice in history.

Over the centuries, and especially in modern times, fried rice has ceased to be a mere emergency solution for re-cooking leftovers from the previous day, and has become a “fresh” dish on its own.


A thousand and one varieties of fried rice

Since rice cultivation originated in southeastern Asia, where it is the basis of the daily diet, it is not surprising that so many nations of that continent have their own version of fried rice: China —of course—, Korea, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines, India, Sri Lanka... Thus, there are recipes for fried rice in the Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Indian, etc., style.

It is not surprising either that in other parts of the world where the rice plant has acclimatized well and is also grown in large quantities, there are other versions of fried rice, too. Indeed, we will find some form of fried rice as part of the national cuisine in several nations in Africa, the Pacific and even the Americas.


Fried rice in the Caribbean and South America


Rice cultivation arrived in the Caribbean and South America in the 19th century, and spread widely and successfully throughout the 20th century. Today, rice is part of the daily diet of several Latin American nations.

In that part of the world, we find new versions of fried rice —arroz frito is the literal translation into Spanish—, which were possibly inspired by Chinese fried rice, especially where Chinese immigration was numerous. In any case, most probably these recipes originated from the same need already mentioned above—to take advantage of the leftover rice by mixing it with other leftovers from the previous meal.

Today, we find fried rice as part of the national cuisine in Cuba, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru. Peruvian versions, known by the general local name arroz chaufa—‘rice in Chinese style’ would be an acceptable translation—, have become internationally known. Although the ingredients used in the different versions of arroz chaufa are too diverse, there is one ingredient they all have in common—green onion. This vegetable gives both flavor and color to the dish. A typical arroz chaufa recipe can be found at https://carolinarice.com/recipes/arroz-chaufa/.


Fundamentals of cooking fried rice


Step 1


The essential ingredient of all fried rice recipes is, of course, steam-cooked plain rice.

Do not you know yet how to cook plain rice? We give you this basic recipe, for four servings:

1.       Put a saucepan on the stove and pour in one cup of white rice and two cups of water.

2.       Add one tablespoon of oil —to prevent grains from sticking to the saucepan while cooking—, and some pinches of salt to taste.

3.       Stir the mixture.

4.       Turn on a high heat and stir occasionally until it comes to a boil.

5.       Soon after the water has begun to boil, reduce heat.

6.       Let simmer for about 20 minutes.

Since this rice will be seasoned with other ingredients, it is not necessary to add any seasoning yet.

Once the rice is ready, set it aside and cook the other ingredients.

Step 2

What you should make now is a sort of stew with the other ingredients.

Just do the following:

1.       In a frying pan, put one tablespoon of oil.

2.       Add vegetables for seasoning—two tablespoons of finely chopped green onion and one tablespoon of chopped chili or bell pepper.

3.       Add one cup of your preferred meat, previously cut into small pieces. Mix and fry for five to eight minutes. You will see that the meat reduces a little as it loses some of the water contained in it.

4.       Pour a generous dash of soy sauce over the meat and stir-fry for another five minutes. It is not necessary to add salt if the soy sauce is salted.


Step 3


1.       In the same pan where you have fried the meat, pour the rice you have previously cooked.

2.       If the fat from the stew does not soak all the rice, add one more tablespoon of oil.

3.       Add half a cup of pre-cooked canned vegetables.

4.       Fry the mixture over high heat for five to eight minutes, stirring occasionally.

5.       Turn off the heat.

Congratulations! Now the fried rice is ready.

As you become more adept at preparing this basic recipe, you can improve and add variety to the dish by adding more ingredients, such as sweet and sour sauce, scrambled eggs or seafood.

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