Real Fried Rice, Three Ways

炒飯

This is not the fried rice I ate ravenously as a kid in New Jersey—that exotic mound of dark brown stuff shaped with an ice-cream scoop and dotted with wisps of canned bean sprouts and cubes of roast pork (I thought it superb). This is real fried rice, left white, as the Chinese insist on (seasoned therefore with salt, not soy), and tossed to a fluffy mound with colorful, stir-fried bits of fresh meat and vegetables. It is altogether light and delicious, a pleasure to my adult tongue even while a blow to my childhood illusions.

  • Fried rice in China is usually an unassuming and deeply satisfying bowlful, a way of using up last night’s rice and creating a quick, nourishing snack or meal. Roadside stalls and vendors in bus stations and train depots sell fried rice as “fast food” and offer it up in the spirit of a snack. Occasionally it will appear on a restaurant menu, but it will then be brought to the table last in a succession of dishes, meant to follow and accompany the requisite plain rice and never to replace it.
  • My own style is to eat fried rice either as a midnight snack or—tradition forgive me—as a replacement for unadorned white rice. Late at night, it is enormously comforting. At mealtime, it should be paired with subtle flavors that will not override its delicate taste, or on occasion with stews to add some color to their brownness.
  • Given the cold rice, which can be made days ahead, fried rice is a 10–20-minute dish depending upon how fast you chop.

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