From time to time I enjoy a plate of fried rice. I’ve notice it is almost always good, quickly prepared, and is usually inexpensive. I occurred to me that fried rice is one of the world’s most perfect foods.
According to Gloria Bley Miller in her The Thousand Recipe Chinese Cook Book, fried rice originated in China’s Yanchow area of the lower Yangtze in ancient times. This is contradicted by the Cambridge World History of Food which says varieties of the dish have been found all over the world for nearly as long as mankind has been around. And this seems quite logical. Rice is consumed all over the world, and adding a few things into a bowl of rice to add a bit of flavor seems a natural thing to do.
Some other versions of friend rice include Spanish paella, chafua from Peru, pilaf from the middle east, and jambalaya from the American south. But really there are dishes of rice mixed with vegetables and meat found almost everywhere in the world. Within China there are at least a dozen regional variations of the dish.
A few days ago I had a plate of fried rice for lunch. I’ve ordered this exact same dish in the same café probably a half dozen times over the years. Each time I order it, it is slightly different from every other times I’ve eaten it. Sometimes it has tiny pieces of a cartilage meat that I think might be finely chopped pig ear. This day it had small pieces of pork fat. Sometimes it contains pork meat. Sometime a meat I can not identify.
This day it contained spicy seasoned eggs. Usually the eggs are not seasoned. It also contained a leafy green vegetable instead of peas. I liked this version.
There are several reasons fried rice is a perfect food. One is it usually contains a good nutritional mix of foods, such as several vegetables, starch, and meat. Most Chinese fried race also contains egg, a good source of protein.
Fried rice is quick and easy to prepare. Just cool some cooked rice. Heat a wok and scramble an egg in it. Chop the egg, some meat and vegetables together. While the wok is still hot, throw everything in it for a few seconds on high heat. Season, and Boom! Fried rice.
Most foods are not as good as leftovers, but there are a few foods that actually improve their flavor with a little age. Examples include casseroles and pizza. Fried rice is usually served in large portions that one person can not consume in a single meal, so it can be boxed to take home. The next day after the flavors of its various ingredients have had a chance to mingle it can be zapped in a microwave and is better than the previous day.
Many people like vegetarian dishes. Fried rice usually has a small amount of meat or seafood which can be easily left out, so it’s a good dish for those who don’t eat meat.
There has been a big push in China to eliminate food waste. Fried rice can be a big help toward ending food waste. By putting whatever meat and vegetables are ready to expire in a restaurant’s refrigerator or a home refrigerator into fried rice dishes, much food waste can be avoided.
Chairman Mao once said “glorious to scrimp, shameful to waste.” So if you drop some food on the floor, there is no need to throw it away. Just sweep it up and add it to the fried rice. The floor sweepings will add a bit of flavor.
The one time I had a plate of fried rice that I didn’t like, it was made with a chopped sausage I didn’t care for along with fresh, uncooked, chopped cucumber. No problem. I doused it in a sweet soy and hot pepper sauces. It became very edible. So fried rice is easily doctored if it doesn’t suit one’s tastes. Another big plus.
In summary, fried rice is virtuous in many ways. Plus it usually tastes good. If it is not the world’s most perfect food, it is certainly in the top 10.