Whenever anyone finds out that I have a food blog, their first question tends to be along the lines of “Oh! Could you recommend me some good Asian recipes to try?”
At this point, I’m tempted to tell them that yes, I have an entire repertoire of authentic Asian recipes that I’ve inherited from my grandmother during my entire childhood which was spent learning to cook by her side, and that I’ve mastered everything on the Asian menu from South East Asian desserts like chendol to main dishes like Hainanese chicken rice and Indian delicacies such as curries, roti prata and garlic naan.
Oh yes, mind you, I’m filled with the bursting urge to tell them that just like the women of The Joy Luck Club did, I served delicious hand-made pork dumplings (or “wantons” as these Chinese snacks are better known) as my mum and aunties engaged in a mahjong marathon session.
I want to tell people that when we were gathered for family dinners all seated at the large, round table, my relatives complimented me on my famous Asian meals, and that even before we said “Chi!” (which means “Eat!”) some greedy relative had already stretched out his chopsticks and helped himself because the food I made simply smelt too darn good.
Unfortunately, my honest nature wins, and instead of boasting triumphantly about my Asian heritage and cooking skills, I sheepishly tell them, in an almost inaudible whisper, that while I’m Asian through-and-through – being a girl with long dark hair and yellow skin and round black eyes, who hails from the South East Asian country of Singapore, coincidentally known globally as a food lover’s paradise, with Chinese great-grandparents who immigrated from China’s Hainan and Fujian provinces respectively – I don’t have very many Asian recipes up my sleeve.
I then prepare for their look of shock (or even horror), when I tell them that the one Asian dish I’ve mastered is chicken sausage fried rice.
I know people, especially non-Asians, are always hoping for a dish that is much more fanciful and extravagantly more exotic – so I brace myself for their disappointed sighs which they try to hide by changing the subject.
I usually then get in a hurry to explain my seemingly inexplicable behavior (how can an Asian with a food blog not know how to cook Asian food??). Some are patient and accept my excuse that I’d only started cooking a year ago, in Buenos Aires, so they kindly nod and forgive me. Others.. well, they just keep up their incredulous look of astonished disappointment.
Eventually, I berate myself and tell myself that I should really try to explore my Asian food heritage. I mean, how can I make homemade tart shells and knead my own pasta noodles but not know how to cook Asian apart from fried rice?
Well, here’s an almost-end-of-the-year resolution that I’ve slowly but apprehensively made – I will try to expand my Asian food menu, but since I’m a bit unguided in that direction, I will start with baby steps, and begin this journey with another version of the fried rice that I’d first mastered.
Perhaps the reason why I’m stuck in a fried rice or stir-fried anything rut, is because of the ease and convenience of a wok, or a large saucepan that can (almost) make up for the lack of one.
I love the fact that everything’s largely under your control, that you can see the evolution of the dish before you, that you can stir and mix and toss and push and still know that the food in your wok (or saucepan) is just as you see it – no nasty surprise at the end.
It’s such a pleasant delight to breathe in the aromas of stir-fried chicken that has been marinated in soya sauce and minced garlic, and as the scents tease your nostrils, you can’t help but take a deep, satisfying breath, proud to be the first to smell it and to have played a part in creating the aroma. And of course, witnessing the transformation of long grain white rice from thin yellowish white to a fluffy white, with the steam escaping from the rice cooker is also crazily enchanting.
And when you toss in the rice, cooked and fragrant and plump, into the wok along with all your other ingredients, you hear the beautiful sizzle and hiss as you stir and mix, as the rice and eggs and chicken get in contact with the surface of the wok.
Then drizzle a bit of soya sauce, not too much, not too little, just the amount you like, and watch the rice turn just a shade browner, until all the rice has been equally seasoned. Add a pinch of salt and some pepper if you like, and your dish is ready to be devoured.
If you want to be a little fancier and impress your guests, chop up some fresh spring onions, and sprinkle them over the bowl of fried rice. I strongly suggest that even if you don’t care about presentation, to do it anyway, because there’s something addictive and so delicious about spring onions which will take the fried rice up to a whole new level.
And yes, this is the first baby step I’m taking, unless you count my other fried dish – Asian-style chicken and vegetable rice noodles. So please take out your pom-poms and cheer me right on!
I hope you enjoy! Chi! Let’s eat!
CHICKEN FRIED RICE
(Serves 2 as a main, or 4 as a side)
1) 1 uncooked chicken breast, cubed
2) 1 large garlic clove, minced
3) 2 tablespoons of soya sauce (for the marinade)
4) 1 cup of uncooked long grain white rice
5) 1 ¼ cup of water
6) 4 – 6 tablespoons of soya sauce to taste (for rice)
7) Salt and pepper to taste
8) 1 cup of chopped spring onions
9) 4 eggs, beaten
1) De-bone and cut chicken breast into cubes
2) Peel and mince garlic clove
3) Mix chicken cubes with minced garlic and 2 tablespoons of soya sauce and allow chicken to sit in marinade for at least 20 minutes
4) Cook rice with water according to package instructions
5) Beat up the eggs and cook a plain omelet in a saucepan, and then cut into small pieces
5) In a saucepan, sauté marinated chicken cubes with a little oil over low heat until chicken is cooked and white throughout
6) Add in cooked rice, and mix rice evenly, pour 4 – 6 tablespoons of soya sauce over the chicken rice and mix well
7) Add in fried egg pieces and stir well
8) Serve hot garnished with chopped spring onions
De-bone and cut chicken breast into cubes. Peel and mince garlic clove. Mix chicken cubes with minced garlic and 2 tablespoons of soya sauce and allow chicken to sit in marinade for at least 20 minutes: