How to cook rice around the world, everywhere from Afghanistan to Australia, India to Indonesia, according to experts across the globe: chefs, street food cooks, food writers, cookbook authors, culinary guides and more, who have provided tips to cooking rice dishes, from congee to curd rice, fried rice to rice desserts.
This guide to how to cook rice around the world includes tips to cooking rice dishes from chefs, home cooks, cookbook authors, culinary guides, street food cooks, food writers, hosts of pop-ups and supper-clubs, and even a former MasterChef contestant or two. Our rice cooking experts share advice on how to cook rice dishes from all corners of the globe, from a traditional Cambodian rice dish cooked on the open fire to a playful rice re-invention in a sleek Singapore restaurant kitchen.
To learn how this celebration of the diversity of rice dishes and the countless ways rice is cooked around the world came about, see my previous post, Make Rice Not War, a call to rice lovers to open their minds to different ways of cooking rice other than their own. My aim is to inspire curiosity in how others cook rice in their homes, on the streets, in restaurants, and in communities, in their countries of origin and adoption, and in diasporas around the world.
Rice dishes are organised by the country of the expert nominating the dish, as that’s where they are cooking them, however, the place of origin is described in the text. Food travels and dishes evolve and that’s part of the point of the exercise. Countries are listed in alphabetical order because #MakeRiceNotWar.
To the numerous readers who have messaged since reading yesterday’s post: no, we have not abandoned our epic Cambodia Culinary History and Cookbook (we are still very much continuing that; updates on our Patreon page) #MakeRiceNotWar is a small new side project.
How to Cook Rice Around the World – 66 Rice Dishes and Rice Cooking Tips from 65 Experts
Hamed is an Afghanistan-born Rome-based home cook, online publisher and entrepreneur who blogs with his wife at Chasing The Unexpected
Kichiri goosht-e-land is a typical rice dish from Herat, my hometown in western Afghanistan. Under the Taliban regime most people couldn’t afford this dish, only the rich could. Now, we make it only at home. There is just one restaurant that makes it in Herat, but it’s not very common. We make it for family or to offer to guests. Friends or relatives will even ask to be invited for lunch specifically for this dish. This usually happens when they can’t afford to make it or don’t have the time to prepare the dried meat, which is the top ingredient and not always easy to find.
The main ingredient that can’t be replaced is the round rice and it’s best made with the native rice from Herat, which is delicious, but we don’t produce much of it. After that, the dried meat, usually lamb or mutton, and mung beans, along with garlic, salt and lots of onion, we add spices such as curcuma, black pepper, cinnamon, and fennel seeds. Normally, the mung beans are smashed when still raw and then put in to cook with the other ingredients. This is not mandatory, though, as some people also prepare this with the whole beans.
The dried meat that we use is a specialty we make only in Herat in autumn when it’s not too hot anymore and before the big cold arrives. To prepare the dried meat, we cut the meat into pieces leaving some fat on each piece. Then we fully cover the meat with salt, pierce all the pieces with a stick so that we can hang it to dry, usually outside. If it rains, we move it inside or on the balcony; somewhere not hot. It can take up to a month to be ready.
To make the dish, first we boil the dried meat – like for every dish, we cook the meat very well; we like it overcooked and very tender – then we stir-fry it with onions and the spices, and, finally, we let it cook for half an hour in the pressure cooker with all the other ingredients until very tender. Meanwhile, we cook the rice and mung beans and when everything is ready we serve the large chunks of meat on top of the rice. This is a winter dish. We never eat it in summer and it’s better for lunch because it’s quite heavy. I remember having it for dinner once and then rolling around all night.
Wild Rice Porridge
Our native rice, which we cook like a porridge, mash or grits, is a small red rice. A wild rice, it is more like a seed of water grass, so it connects to water stories, water spirits and rituals of gratitude to waters. Anything taken from water is loaded with rituals of grace or gratitude. The cooking is like boiling a porridge or mush for babies – as it’s highly nutritious – or soft for Elders. My uncle who is connected to Larakia mob in the Northern Territory says it is harvested by moon cycles. It is also used for older family member in soups and soup-type dishes to help build health.
The rice was stored and traded as family stores of it being traded into other parts of Queensland. This may have followed similar trade food exchange and trade lines which traverse the whole of Australia. Like pur yugari (pipi), for which there is a song for the ritual of gathering, my uncle says his mob Larrakia hold a song for the wild rice. As it was harvested by canoe and hand harvested it makes sense that moon or full moon harvesting would have occurred, not dissimilar to canoe fishing on full moon, for giving thanks. Then taking only what you need. Giving thanks to the waters for giving is vital to most nations within Australia.
Along these lines of movement or trading and ceremony routes, there are ways people would store along the paths so mobs have food to eat. For example, bunya nuts are stored in tree trunks underground. When stored underground, bunya nuts ferment like black garlic, but are lovely in taste and texture because they’re creamy and nutty. Wild rice was also stored along these routes for sharing and using after the gathering and while still in the husk. This is evidenced by grinding stones at certain locations that were like outdoor kitchen preparation areas along these routes.
Large grinding stones and small grinding stones work like a mortar, segregated for meat, fish and seeds. Stone arrangements along routes denote sleeping and interaction arrangements at the camps or on the travelling routes. Aboriginal people also kept a stone of choice or preference, like a pestle, which were highly revered like any good cooking implement, so mobs would travel with their own pestle. There is some song in Aboriginal language about this from women in Tasmania making a connection to a man that gives his wife a good pestle is a good man and a good husband.
Special Fried Rice
Victor Liong, chef-owner of Lee Ho Fook restaurant in Melbourne
Special Fried Rice is an iconic Australian-Chinese fried rice dish that’s usually made with lup cheong or char siu pork, prawns, peas, eggs, spring onions, and sometimes beansprouts. It’s the hero side dish and/or accompaniment to the other iconic Australian-Chinese staple, the salt and pepper calamari. It must be made with jasmine rice, usually leftover rice from the steamed rice the day before. Restaurants and Chinese homes usually cook rice in a rice cooker, and fried rice is a derivative dish from leftover steamed rice.
Before cooking, the rice must be rinsed three times and then cooked in a rice cooker or via the absorption method. Leftover rice is ideal because it has lost some moisture and that’s crucial when stir-frying rice – to have loose individual grains. Every Chinese restaurant has a fried rice dish. It’s a sensible way to use up the excess of rice. I like all fried rice, from fine diner Flower Drum’s egg white and dried scallop fried rice to the rustic charm of late-night diner Supper Inn’s special fried rice. At home it’s eaten on Sundays, the end of the week when the fridge is full of leftover rice – it’s either congee or fried rice on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
Hainanese Chicken Rice
Jackie M, Malaysian-born Sydney-based chef, restaurateur, hawker food specialist, TV host, and pioneer of online live cooking videos
My favourite rice dish is Hainanese Chicken Rice. It was a childhood favourite growing up in Seremban in Malaysia. It uses jasmine rice, lots of garlic, chicken stock, and some ginger, onion, and sesame oil. It’s served with separately-poached chicken, drizzled with a light oyster and soy-based sauce and crispy fried shallots and sesame oil, and comes with a side of chilli and ginger sauce, and a small bowl of chicken broth garnished with coriander and spring onion. Hainanese chicken rice was typically eaten for breakfast at hawker stalls in my hometown. After we moved to Australia my stepmom taught herself how to make it so we would have it on special occasions. She passed on the knowledge to me and I started serving it at my Sydney restaurant back in the day and it was one of the top sellers on my menu.
It uses jasmine rice and the way I did it at my Sydney restaurant was like this: I use lots of garlic along with a small amount of onion and ginger, mince them all, and sauté them in a wok with oil until aromatic. I’d then add rinsed jasmine rice, mix well, sauté a little further, then transfer into a pot or rice cooker, add chicken stock (from the poached whole chicken), sesame oil, knotted pandan leaves, and seasoning, and cook it until done. The sauce is made with a combination of soy sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil, thick soy, and other seasoning, and it’s drizzled over the (filleted) chicken pieces that are plated on some thinly-sliced cucumber, and topped with fresh coriander leaves and crispy fried shallots.
Garlic Fried Rice
Dennis Leslie is an Adelaide-based Australian-Filipino chef, formerly executive chef at Hilton Manila and Hill of Grace Restaurant at Adelaide Oval
I grew up on eating rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Rice with butter and condensed milk for breakfast, steamed rice with boiled egg for lunch, and garlic fried rice for dinner! My favourite is this very simple garlic fried rice – the most ethane version of fried rice in Philippines. It’s eaten with just about any dish but great with pulutan – dishes that are eaten when drinking – kilawin, grilled fish or sisig. Filipinos eat rice with every meal. A dish without rice is not considered a meal. The best type of rice I have come across is the rice that we grow on my wife’s farm in Ilocos, a type of long grain jasmine rice. For Filipinos, the best thing you can put on rice is garlic, and for most Filipinos, it’s usually eaten with either a fried egg or boiled egg. Nothing like garlic rice with fried egg!
The best way to make it is the old-fashioned way by placing the rice in a bunga or clay pot. Wash the rice several times until the water is clear. Stick your index finger in the pot, just touching the surface of the rice, and add water until the level reaches the first crease on your finger – a clever little measuring device for rice cooking. Place the clay pot on top of a kalan or coal stove, and cook with the lid, slightly over, until you get crunchy bits at the bottom of the pot. Once cooked, heat up a wok on the coal stove, add oil, fry garlic, and crumble the rice in the wok, frying until slightly crunchy. Add salt and black pepper.
On the streets of Philippines, they serve rice in a plastic bag, a couple of boiled eggs and some vinegar with garlic in it. and that’s considered as a meal. My grandmother would wake up at 4am and start cooking and one of the first things she would serve up as we woke up would be garlic fried rice, fried eggs, and some fried corned beef with onions and tomatoes. The aromas of garlic would fill the house and wake every one up. No need for alarm clocks!
Asian-Inspired Scallop Risotto
Tom Neal Tacker is a chef, food and travel writer who blogs at the Naked Hungry Traveller
Playing with a combination of flavours, this Southeast Asian inspired scallop risotto pairs nicely with an aged Aussie Riesling from the Clare or Eden valleys. Serves four as a rich entree or smallish main. Infuse a litre of thin chicken stock with a few kaffir lime leaves, half a chilli, a couple smashed coriander roots and a stalk of bruised lemongrass. Taste to ensure flavours are set. Sauté a couple large finely diced golden shallots in butter and oil. Add 4-6 handfuls of arborio rice, depending on your hand size. Stir constantly to toast the rice. Add a cup or so of a Riesling, not necessarily the same one you’ll drink with the finished dish. Burn off the alcohol. Gradually add the hot strained infused stock, one ladle at a time stirring until incorporated.
As the rice turns creamy, add a half-cup of coconut milk. Season. White pepper works better than black in this. Add a very finely diced red chilli, a bit of lime zest and the juice of half a small lime. The risotto should be loose. Cover and rest. Meanwhile, sauté fresh raw scallops in a hot pan – I like Tasmanian scallops with roe attached; six per person is usually enough – in a scant sheen of neutral oil, one minute or so per side. Spoon risotto on to warmed plates. Arrange cooked scallops on top. Scatter a bit of chopped coriander and/or Thai basil leaves, fried shallots and/or fried garlic. If scallops aren’t available, use fresh, green and deveined prawns. If you are already an adept risotto cook, it’s an easy recipe. If not, invite a friend who is to dinner.
Xôi Mặn – Savoury Sticky Rice Snack
Xôi Mặn is a savoury sticky rice topped with different kinds of meats. There is also a sweet version where the sticky rice is stained with different colours: trái gấc, the flesh from this fruit colours the rice orange, or hoa đậu biếc, which stains the rice blue. Toppings are normally pureed mung beans, sugar, sesame, and a peanut mix. It’s made using sticky rice with heaps of different toppings. My favourite is pork floss, grilled chicken, pâté and quail eggs. The sticky rice is best soaked overnight or at least for three hours to really rehydrate the rice so it’s silky soft. After it’s cooked it gets a shallot oil folded through it for flavour. The toppings are prepped separately and added to the rice as it’s ordered.
It’s a favourite street food snack in Vietnam and can be found on street corners all over the country. It can be eaten any time of day. The sweet version is normally a dessert. The orange version of the rice is normally offered to the alters during celebrations like weddings, one month baby celebrations and New Year, as orange is like red which brings good luck. I love eating this when my mum makes it and it’s one of the first things I eat when I’m in Vietnam. There are some good vendors in the evening around Ben Thanh Market. I got some for my son on our trip last year and he absolutely smashed it!
Zongzi – Bamboo/Lotus Leaf Rice Dumplings
Lorraine Elliott is a food writer and blogger at Not Quite Nigella
My favourite rice dish is rice dumplings – zongzi bamboo or lotus leaf dumplings. They’re made with glutinous rice filled with marinated pork belly and mushrooms. Sometimes chestnuts and mung beans are used in the filling too. It’s quite a long process, where you marinate the pork, soak the rice and bamboo leaves, and then wrap them. The wrapping is a challenge in itself, although you can certainly wrap these more simply. Then they steam for 5 hours so it’s an all-day sort of project!
Zongzi are usually served at the Dragon Boat Festival which is celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth moon of the Chinese lunar calendar, but to me they were an after-school snack that my grandmother made. After she passed we realised that nobody knew how she had made these elaborately wrapped zongzi and I was so happy to have someone teach me! The great thing about home-made zongzi is that you can put your favourite filling in them. I find that when I buy these, I don’t know if they’re going to be generous with the pork and mushrooms or not.
Kutsinta – Filipino Rice Sweets
Rice is foundational for people from the Philippines, as it is for many of its Southeast Asian neighbours. It’s present in almusal (breakfast), tanghali (lunch), merienda (in between snack), hapunan (dinner), or a minatamis (dessert/sweets to end a meal). One of the first things Filipino kids are taught to do in the kitchen is to cook rice by the finger method, using their middle finger as their measurement aid. Touch your hand to the bottom of the inside of the pot and use the first line on your middle finger to measure the water. Every Filipino swears it’s the perfect way to cook rice, and it’s a rite of passage that we teach our kids. Rice is in dishes such as champorado (chocolate rice pudding) eaten for breakfast or merienda, in lugaw (rice porridge), typically eaten for lunch, in kutsinta (steamed mochi), another snack, and for dinner as steamed rice with ulam (main dish of meat, seafood and/or veggies).
I love baking and making sweet treats with an Aussie-American-Filipino twist and one of them is kutsinta, an example of kakanin, Filipino sweets made with rice, or in Tagalog it’s kanin. Kutsinta and other kakanins are eaten generally as a merienda (snack between meals) from the handwritten recipe card of my late mother, Corazon. It’s made with one cup of rice flour, one cup muscovado sugar, one and three quarters of a cup of water, one teaspoon of lye water, one teaspoon of atchuete (annatto) powder, one can of dulce de leche, and toasted shredded coconut.
You’ll need silicon or non-stick mini muffin pans, and a steamer pot. In a small bowl, combine the achuete powder with one tablespoon of warm water. Sift the rice flour into a large bowl. In a medium heatproof bowl, add 3/4 cup of boiling water. Whisk until the sugar is dissolved. Whisk in one cup of cold water. Add this liquid mixture into the rice flour in the large bowl. Carefully whisk in the lye water and annatto liquid until fully incorporated. Carefully pour the batter into the muffin pans, filling the cups two-thirds of the way. Add to the steamer pot, cover, and steam the kutsinta until set for 40-50 minutes.
Remove the muffin pans from steamers and let the kutsinta rest on a wire rack for 10-15 minutes. Use a silicon spatula to pry the kutsinta from the muffins pans and let cool on tray/plate with baking paper. If you have more batter, wipe out the muffin pans and repeat the steaming process. Once cool, decorate the centre of each kutsinta with a dollop of dulce de leche and sprinkle with toasted shredded coconut. Kakakin varieties are found in fresh food markets across the Philippines. Kutsinta is just one of the many Filipino sweet native delicacies meticulously prepared by the locals of each province. In Australia, you can find kutsinta being sold at Filipino bakeries or sari-sari Filipino variety stores.
Bai Ling – Garlic Fried Rice
Tevy is the chef-owner of Tevy’s Place, a local restaurant in Siem Reap
I like the fried rice of my growing up in Cambodia. We used the local rice (no chemicals) left over from the night before. It was hard, so we fried it with pork fat! Always duck eggs. Garlic grown at home. Spring onion, fish sauce, soya sauce. Salt and pepper. We did not have an electric cooker – no such luxury – we cooked the rice in a pot on a small fire. I love the k’dang! That is the brown/burnt stuff on the bottom! All of my staff love k’dang. Sometimes local Khmer customers ask for garlic fried rice. Shrimp fried rice is the most popular for foreigners.
Bai Chha – Egg Fried Rice
Mengly Mork is chef and owner of Pou Kitchen and Café in Siem Reap
My favourite Cambodian rice dish is bai chha. Cooked steamed rice is stir-fried in a wok with soy sauce, salt, meat (either beef, pork, chicken, or lamb) or seafood, chili sauce, hard vegetables such as carrots and green beans, and it’s topped with spring onions and an optional fried egg – either chicken egg or duck egg – can go on top or the egg can be mixed through. When wok-frying it you want 50% to remain soft and 50% to be firm. Most of the local restaurants served it here in Cambodia. You’ll also find it sold on the streets, and also at my restaurant, too. I recommend it for lunch or dinner. Most street food cooks would start making it from lunch time through to dinner.
Borbor Kroeung Knung – Rice Porridge with Pork Intestines
Pheak Tim is executive chef at Shinta Mani Wild in the Cardamom Mountains
My favourite Cambodian rice dish is borbor – Cambodia’s congee or rice porridge – and borbor with pork intestine is the best. It’s called Borbor Kroeung Knung, but ‘kroeung’ is not the same as the Cambodian kroeung herb and spice paste. In this case, ‘kroeung’ means ‘mixed’ and refers to the many different bits of the pork insides, the offal, and ‘knung’ is the intestines. My mother used to make this for me when I was young and I used to love to eat it with crispy pork fat or crispy pork skin. We would eat it once a week for breakfast. In the countryside we cooked borbor in a pot on a wood fire. I’ve lived in the city since 2007 and I miss cooking rice on the wood fire. To make borbor we never washed the rice in the countryside. The first step to making this is to heat some oil and fry some chopped garlic then add some jasmine rice (I use pkar romdol rice) and fry for a few minutes then keep aside. Next, cook the chopped garlic, dried shrimp, dried squid, dried mushrooms, with water, chicken stock (or chicken bouillon), fish sauce, sugar, and pork intestines, heart, liver, and shoulder, and cook for one hour, take them out, then add the rice and boiled for around 45 minutes. Serve with the key ingredients as the side dish, and condiments. The condiments are important. You need to have some chili paste, sweet soy bean paste, and lime wedges on the table.
Kralan – Bamboo Sticky Rice
Sokin Nou is a Battambang-born Siem Reap-based archaeology and culinary tour guide
Kralan or bamboo sticky rice is my favourite Cambodian rice dish and the best place to try it is in the Samrong Knong area near my hometown, the city of Battambang in northwestern Cambodia, which is a well-known place for it as well. Sticky rice is a must-use for this and the other ingredients for Kralan are coconut milk (the creamy first press), salt, sugar, and black beans. First, the sticky rice is soaked in water for six hours, then washed and cleaned and taken out of the water. Then the coconut is grated to make coconut milk, then mixed with salt, sugar, black beans, and sticky rice. This is put into bamboo and grilled over an open flame for one to two hours. Sometimes we add small pieces of fresh jackfruit or longan when they’re in season. These are even more delicious, plus the added bonus is the wonderful fragrance.
Nan Chen is a Chinese food writer and author currently living in Melbourne who shares her food and more @myfamilyfeast
In China, rice is considered as a type of ‘carb’, eaten to accompany a few cooked savoury protein and vegetable dishes. It is essential to fill the tummy. On a daily basis, it’s cooked in the simplest way, boiled with water. Every Chinese person knows how to cook rice. Put the rice into the pot first, then add water until the water level reaches the top line of the index finger when the fingertip is touching the top of the rice. This is the tip that nearly every Chinese person learns from his/her family. So, the most common way to cook rice for daily meals is to boil the rice in a pot or steam it in a rice cooker.
Occasionally, if there’s leftover rice, there are a few recipes to improvise. We can add 4-6 times more water to the leftover rice, then boil down to make congee. The most common is simply cooked with water, dà mǐ zhōu. It is comfy and no-fuss food. A savoury congee is cooked with meat, seafood, etc. In Southern China, you can also add jujube, goji berries, chestnuts, lotus flower seeds, and sugar to the congee for a sweet version. Or you can add shredded chicken meat, minced meat or crab meat to make a savoury congee, served with thinly sliced ginger and spring onion.
Another one of the best ways to transform leftover rice is to make stir fried rice. The easiest recipe is egg fried rice. Just mix 2-3 eggs, then fry the eggs quickly until cooked. Take the eggs out, add a little bit of oil to the wok, then add some chopped spring onions, sautéed until fragrant, then add the leftover rice. Stir fry constantly until every grain of rice is separated and not stuck together. This step is very important! Then season with salt and ground pepper, add the cooked eggs. Voilà. I like to eat the stir-fried egg rice while chewing on some garlic. One mouthful of rice, one bite of garlic. Yum.
There are many versions of fried rice in China. The simplest fried rice can be called the basic version. Then there is YangZhou fried rice from YangZhou in Jiangsu province, a city close to Shanghai, in the southeast part of China. YangZhou fried rice must be the more famous rice dish in China. You can find this rice dish in nearly every Chinese restaurant. The method is the same as egg fried rice, but instead of only added fried eggs, YangZhou fried rice also requires ham or bacon, fresh prawns, eggs, peas, etc. It is said some restaurants ask chef applicants to cook this dish to test them as it is deceptively difficult.
Only in the past decade, have Chinese people started becoming connoisseurs of rice in China, which is to say that people like to savour the variety of rice flavours and textures: Japanese rice, rice grown in the colder Northeast regions of China, Thai jasmine rice, and more exclusive varieties. China is catching up with Japan in this sense. It is next level in Japan when it comes to rice appreciation. They definitely build a whole culture around rice! In China, there are many varieties of rice, too, of course. We also have glutinous rice (black and white) used to make many mouth-watering rice dishes, such as Zongzi and Eight Treasure Rice.
To make this Eight Treasure Rice, use a big and deep bowl, brush it with some lard, then add the ‘eight treasures’ – mixed nuts, raisins, goji berries, jujubes, chestnuts etc in the bottom. This is to make the pattern, which will show on top when the cooked rice is served upside down. Now, add the steamed glutinous rice and press down firmly to add another layer, then add a layer of cooked red bean paste, then add the remaining steamed glutinous rice. Cover with a plate then steam for 20-30 minutes. When it’s ready, flip the bowl upside down to serve the Eight Treasure Rice. This dish is a festive dish that’s always cooked for celebrations. Zongzi are parcels of glutinous rice wrapped in steamed bamboo leaves and this is another traditional Chinese dish. You can add cooked meat, cooked red bean paste, jujubes, and other ingredients to Zongzi to make it sweet or savoury.
Pineapple Sticky Rice
Georgia Freedman is a food writer and cookbook author of Cooking South of the Clouds—Recipes and Stories from China’s Yunnan Province
Pineapple sticky rice is made by members of China’s Dai minority who live in Yunnan Province, near the country’s borders with Laos and Myanmar. This dish is made with sticky rice, pineapple, banana, and sugar. Some cooks from areas near Myanmar also add sweetened condensed milk and top the rice with sesame seeds. (I included both versions in my cookbook.) This dish is relatively simple: You cook your sticky rice (it should be soaked and then steamed), and hollow out a pineapple, then mix the cooked rice with some of the flesh from the pineapple, some banana, a bit of sugar, and the sweetened condensed milk, if you’re using it. Then you put the rice mixture into the pineapple and steam the whole thing to let the flavours meld.
This recipe is made by home cooks and served at Dai restaurants across Yunnan, but I first had it at a restaurant called Yinjiang Dai Flavor Restaurant in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province. I later learned to make a few different versions of the dish. The simple version comes from a small, family-run restaurant outside of the town of Menglun (in Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture) called Red Bean Garden Fish Farmstead. The cook there, Mi Zhuang, cooks most dishes over an open flame in a small cement stove called a huotang and usually serves the rice with grilled fish or chicken and bright, spicy dishes like a local version of green papaya salad that is dressed just with lime juice, salt, and slices of fiery Thai chillies.
Asopao de Pollo – Dominican Chicken Rice Stew
Gerry Isabelle is a Dominican-American writer/blogger on travel and culture and host/curator of immersive travel experiences in the Caribbean
Travellers to the Dominican Republic, as well as Puerto Rico, Haiti, and Cuba, can expect white rice to accompany most dishes they order. Rice is the most popular staple in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean and as a Dominican-American, I can confidently say that rice is the main staple of Dominican cuisine where it’s most commonly paired with beans and stewed chicken. Rice can be cooked a number of ways in the Dominican Republic and our neighbouring countries. Most commonly, our white rice is cooked plain and then the rest of the flavour and details are dedicated to the meat and beans which accompany the rice. On special occasions, we will cook a moro, which is rice seeped in herbal flavours and cooked with black/pinto beans or gandules (pigeon peas). Sometimes moro will be cooked as a locrio, which means chunks of meat are added to the moro.
But I have two favourite ways of eating rice in the Dominican Republic. One is as a side dish to sancocho, a thick meat stew with root crops and a side of freshly cut avocado. My other, and my top favourite Dominican rice dish is our asopao stew, a thick tomato-based soup made of rice and chicken (or shrimp) and other vegetables. Asopao, which means ‘soup-like’ in Spanish, makes for the perfect dinner for those chilly nights in the Dominican mountains. It’s also very popular in Puerto Rico. Most of our rice dishes are cooked plain white or on special occasions as moro or locrio. To make plain white rice, rice is boiled in a covered metal pot with water, salt, and oil until it’s cooked. It’s very simple and straightforward. However, cooking the asapao stew is a little more complex and involves cooking the chicken, vegetables and rice in the one pot. This recipe encapsulates that process perfectly.
Gujerati Dal Bhat – Lentils and Rice
Hersha Patel is an English comedian, actor and food presenter
This is a super basic dish using basmati rice and lentils, cooked separately, to make a sweet, sour and spicy soup combination that is simple but absolutely delicious. It’s a staple in Gujerati homes so everyone cooks their’s slightly differently. For the soup part you can use lemon, tamarind, and tomatoes. It’s best sweetened with jiggery. Peanuts are sometimes added and spices can include turmeric, mustard seeds, asafoetida, curry leaves, and chillies. My mum would sometimes throw in a lamb boned if she’d made a meat curry. Wild. You always have it ladled over basmati rice!
I grew up in a house in Cambridgeshire, where I was born. It’s a little village about an hour’s drive from London. We were the only Asian family in the village! My mother is from Gujerati in India and my dad grew up in Kenya but his family is from the same area in India and they came to the UK when they were both young adults. They would keep huge tubs of flour, oil and rice in the house as every few months we’d go to London or Leicester to stock up on Asian ingredients. Basmati was the only rice my folks ever cooked with, so this is the only rice I cook a lot. To make the rice you need two parts water, one part rice, wash the rice, add some salt, bring it to a boil, part cover and simmer until the water has evaporated, then lid on, heat off, and let it steam until cooked.
This is the simplest of Gujerati peasant foods and it is something my mum has made since forever and has to be top three of my favourite meals. If I visit mum in Cambridgeshire, I’ll almost always leave with a jar of the dal and a Tupperware of rice. It’s also almost without fail served at Gujerati weddings (where it’s generally sweeter) if there is the classic Indian food being served in the giant plates with little compartments for all the different items! The taste of it reminds me of home beyond just the family I grew up with, but the cultural Indian part of me that doesn’t get quite enough attention due to me being so British!
Jollof – West African Rice
Jollof is a rice dish which derives from the Wollof Tribe of Senegal and has gathered popularity across West Africa over the last 100 or so years. Each country in West Africa, from Togo to Benin and Sierra Leonne each have their own versions with slight variations in ingredients and cooking styles. Famously, of course, Ghana and Nigeria ‘Jollof wars’ suppose one of us is the supreme champion of making this dish to the extent it is fought over in playgrounds across the UK. What the original mother grain was used by the will of people is… I don’t know as I’m not a food historian. Colonialism and cash crops bought with it many new grains to West Africa. Basmati has become fashionable and considered by many the de facto grain that should be used in Ghana, however, I find long grain rice absorbs the sauce it’s cooked in better. Though you can also use risotto grains to good effect. It depends on the style you’re going for really.
What’s the best way of cooking jollof? Every tribe and household has their own method. In principle, I’ve found the easiest and fastest method is to sauté onion with aromatics spices, which at a minimum should include some ground red pepper, thyme, garlic, and scotch bonnet. You make a red pepper / tomato base with onions and ginger blended together. After washing the rice, coat it in spices and onions in the pan. Add a little stock. Once the grains are coated and start to cook very slightly, add the sauce. Cover and cook. You can find recipes in my cookbook or online. Jollof is usually for special occasions, hence the nickname ‘party rice’, so you’d expect it to be served at weddings, birthdays and engagements, on Sundays after church, and any West African restaurant will have Jollof on the menu.
Nasi Kebuli – Royal Rice
Zaleha Kadir Olpin is a Bristol-based Malaysian cook, author and founder of That Rendang Lady Spice Paste made famous for her ‘non-crispy chicken rendang’ on Masterchef UK.
My favourite rice dish of all time is Nasi Kebuli, a very special dish that is only available in my hometown, Pahang. This long name for this dish is Nasi Kebawah Duli meaning Royal Rice as it was once created and served to the Sultan of Pahang. The dish is still served in the Palace and one of the best places to eat this is in the town of Kuala Lipis, where the dish originated. It is usually cooked during special occasions such as weddings and festivals. This is my version of Nasi Kebuli that I have modified from the original. The dish is cooked using basmati rice. Other ingredients include marinated whole chicken and aromatics such as lemongrass, ginger, shallots, galangal, coriander seeds, and black peppercorns. It is served with jelatah nenas dan timun, a cucumber and pineapple pickle.
First, marinate the chicken with turmeric and salt then set aside for an hour or two. Wash the rice and soak with one tablespoon of salt. Slice the shallots, ginger, lemongrass, and galangal and put it all into a large pot that is big enough to fit the whole chicken. Toast the black peppercorns and coriander seeds until fragrant and add them to the same pot. Add water to the pot and bring to a boil then turn down the heat to simmer till the chicken is cooked through. Remove the chicken and let cool. Cut the chicken into preferred sizes and deep-fry till crispy, then set aside to keep warm. Heat another wok or pan and add in half a cup of the oil. Once hot, add the drained rice and sauté for 3-4 minutes. Add in reserved stock from boiling the chicken and stir until combined. Bring to boil then turn the heat down to simmer and let cook until all the liquid has been absorbed. You can also do this in your rice cooker. Serve rice with the jelatah.
Nasi goreng is a beloved fried rice dish in Indonesia. What sets it apart from other fried rice dishes is that it is often seasoned with kecap manis, a fermented sweetened soy sauce from Indonesia that adds a smoky, earthy aroma to the rice. The Indonesian Tourism Ministry declared it as one of the country’s five national dishes, and you’ll find it eaten all over the country. Indonesians use a locally grown long-grain rice, but you can substitute this with jasmine rice. Typical ingredients include garlic, shallots, galangal, and turmeric, and it is often seasoned with kecap manis, light soy sauce or sambal, a hot chilli condiment that Indonesians eat with every meal.
It starts with a bumbu, which are the ingredients used to add flavour and fragrance such as garlic, shallots and galangal or ginger. Fry until softened, then add vegetables or cooked meat, cooled rice and the seasoning sauce, then stir fry together until mixed. Serve with sambal, kerupuk (an Indonesian cracker that stimulates the appetite) and a fried egg on top. It is eaten and sold everywhere! In the home using leftover rice, and from street food stalls to high end restaurants. (There’s a recipe for this in Lara Lee’s cookbook Coconut & Sambal and on the Leiths website)
Htamin Le Thoke – Burmese Rice Salad
Htamin le thoke is a Burmese rice salad and this is something easy to whip up with store cupboard staples, or if you happen to have leftover rice (or potatoes or noodles) that need eating. Burmese salads often contain a seasoned oil, some sourness, some saltiness, and crunchy textures and this has them all. We would typically enjoy this with Mum and Grandma, the three generations crowding around the kitchen table and digging in. Simple boiled rice is mixed with a smidge of chilli oil to add a slight red hue and heat to the rice.
Alongside this, there will be sharing bowls of thin rice vermicelli noodles, thick egg noodles, cooked chunks of potato, toasted gram flour, tamarind water, dried shrimp, garlic oil and crispy garlic pieces, more chilli, fish sauce. All the components are cooked and brought together for people to help themselves. You gather a bit of everything and mix with your hands, taste and adjust with more of whatever you need. Some will like it more tart, so will add more tamarind. Others might prefer more garlic! Or chilli! It’s very much your own final mix. We eat it at home or out on the street, or buy it mixed at speed by street vendors and served up in a portable bag if we’re on the go.
Nasi Ulam – Malaysian Rice Salad
Tina Black is an Ipoh-born Malaysian cook and host of Rendang and Rice, a Malaysian takeaway service and supper club based in Devon
My favourite rice dish is nasi ulam. It’s a Malaysian rice salad. The dish is usually made with a long grain rice, basmati or Thai jasmine. Lots of herbs such as turmeric leaves, mint, ulam rajah (sorry I don’t know it’s English name), fresh coriander, laksa leaves, makrut lime leaves, and a few more are finely shredded and mixed with the cooked rice. Sometimes the rice is stained blue from the butterfly pea flower. Sometimes it’s not. Other ingredients commonly found would be dried shrimp and toasted grated coconut. I’ve only ever eaten it at home in Malaysia and Singapore. Always homemade, and a generous dollop of sambal belachan. Best eaten with your hands! I’ve never come across it in restaurants. I will always remember making it with my Aunty Bessie (who has sadly just passed away). She’d stand watching over me, making sure my knife skills were up to par and the herbs were finely shredded!
Shanti Petiwala is a Mumbai-based cook and storyteller who hosts pop-ups and runs a food delivery business
Rice is a source of nutrition and comfort across a variety of social strata in India, from your Dal Chawal (rice with lentils) pan India, to Rajma Chawal in the north (kidney beans cooked in tomato and onion gravy) or poha (beaten rice prepared in sweet or savoury preparations) all the way to the various dishes using different variations of rice, like the dosas in the South. This also applies to Northeast and Eastern India, for instance, where rice and fish is a staple combination. But, if you want to enjoy rice in its simplest form, try curd rice. It has several healing properties, especially in the summer, and is excellent for gut health (especially if you use homemade yoghurt). A great tip is to use ginger in the tempering. You can choose your pick of the tempering options, but add a small knob of ginger; it aids in further digestion and adds a beautiful spiciness (not chilli spice) to the dish.
Curd rice is one of my most favourite rice dishes, is one of the simplest and it is a much-loved dish across Western India all the way down south. Curd rice is basically steamed rice that is cooled down a little and then topped with fresh, preferably thick and homemade, yoghurt. This can be eaten plain with some pickle or achaar, or it can be jazzed with a simple tempering of mustard seeds, cumin seeds, split black gram seeds, dried red chillies, fresh curry leaves, and a generous pinch of asafoetida and small bruised knob of ginger. It can also be topped with some fried cashews and/or fresh pearls of pomegranate to offer some sweetness and fresh burst of flavour.
While, it may sound simple, curd rice is potentially one of the most customised dishes. Some prefer it with a variety of tempering options or like it slightly sweet. Some even add whole bruised garlic (delicious!). I, personally, prefer it to be a little soft and thick. The rice must not have separate kernels, so I prefer the absorption method of cooking rice (with cup measures, though), and it must be at room temperature for the cold yoghurt to not get too liquidy as a result of the heat of the freshly cooked rice. I measure with a cup, one cup rice to two cups water. The water quantity depends on the age of the rice; if it’s new rice, then we use less water. My mother-in-law measures rice by the fist and measures the water by the finger. I do not understand the logic. I mean how does it work if I cook say 10 cups of rice! The rice itself will go way past my finger! We have a rice cooker, but don’t use it unless we have a big meal to make. I prefer stainless steel pots but in my mother-in-law’s kitchen we use aluminium. Stainless steel can burn the bottom of the rice. But as a child, I grew up with my mom cooking rice in the pressure cooker.
Usually, rice is cooked with dal (in two separate vessels one on top of the other, dal is at the bottom since it takes longer to cook) in the traditional pressure cooker. This doesn’t allow the rice to stay separate though. It is usually slightly mushier than rice cooked directly on the stovetop. No rinsing in any of these methods. The rice is cooked till the water absorbs and then eaten directly. The only time we boil rice and then discard water is for pulaos and biryanis where you want the rice grains to stay separate, but we still do not rinse it after. We always rinse the rice first before cooking, especially given the way rice is stored. Sometimes you buy loose rice, so it can be a source of dust amongst other things. But the washing is now passed on to any kind of rice, just because you don’t know its source, or where it was stored. In my family, we don’t use salt in the rice. But many other people, especially north of Karnataka do. Everyone has a different method of cooking rice. It doesn’t matter how it’s done, as long as it’s clean and delicious!
Dhanvi Kheeri – Rice Porridge with Turmeric Leaf
This rice porridge is called Dhanvi Kheeri. Dhanvi means white in Konkani. Kheeri means pudding. This congee is traditionally made by the Saraswat Brahmin community hailing from to the Konkan coast of India during the time of harvest (early August). An unsalted version of this porridge called Cheppi Kheeri (Cheppi means bland) is prepared as a sacred offering (prasād) during the festivals that coincide with that time of year (these include Nagapanchami, Janamashtami and the Gowri and Ganesha festivals). The congee is eaten as a light meal usually paired along with tender mango pickle. It can also be eaten with jaggery.
Typically, ordinary short grained rice is used (fragrant varieties such as basmati are avoided as the aroma of the turmeric leaves needs to be prominent). It’s cooked in water along with fresh turmeric leaves. Coconut milk and salt are added once the rice is soft. First, the rice is combined in a heavy based pot along with 1 or 2 fresh turmeric leaves and extra water (the ratio of rice to water being around 1:5). The leaves are usually rolled lengthwise and tied into knots so they don’t disintegrate whilst cooking. The rice is boiled until it turns very soft and mushy. Alternately, it can also be pressure cooked. Once soft, it is lightly mashed and thick (first-press) coconut milk is added along with some salt to taste. The congee is then simmered for a few minutes before taking it off the heat.
Riyan Mudalalam is the restaurant manager at Locavore in Ubud, Bali
Nasi Minyak is a traditional rice dish which comes from Sumatra, and I am half Sumatran myself. Nasi minyak is an Indonesian dish from Palembang cuisine of cooked rice with minyak samin (ghee) and spices. This rice dish is commonly associated with Palembang city, the capital of South Sumatra province. In Palembang, nasi minyak is a celebrative traditional dish, usually served for special events and celebrations. Certain mosques in Palembang serve free nasi minyak after Friday mass prayer, every last Friday of the month, which is the same tradition from hundreds of years ago. The traders from the Middle East arrived in Sumatra first before they spread to other areas of Indonesia. Nasi minyak is usually served with a variety of side dishes such as malbi meat, pentol satay, ayam goreng, pickled cucumber, tahu goreng, krupuk, omelette, raisins, and sambal buah, a spicy sambal with pineapple. We also serve this at Restaurant Nusantara.
This is our elevated version of a really humble rice congee or bubur in Indonesia. Bubur ayam (chicken congee) is usually eaten for breakfast all over Indonesia and is a classic staple in warungs (small single dish food stalls). At Sangsaka we make our bubur more luxurious by using a prawn and chicken stock to simmer the congee. we slice squid very finely, marinate it with garlic and chilli and grill it over charcoal to add a smokey flavour. we usually serve it with dried scallop roe powder, some sort of homemade cracker and more of the broth poured over the top. Bubur is basically rice that has been simmered in a broth with ginger, leek and other aromatics until it loses its structure and becomes a porridge like texture. It is a great vessel to absorb flavour in a similar way to risotto and we treat it with a similar respect at the restaurant. We use organic Balinese long grain rice grown from the fields in front of my house in Canggu. Over the years at Sangsaka we have used this base to make countless dishes, but my favourite one is our Bubur cumi with squid, rice porridge, chili, and purslane. It’s made with squid but it works just as well with lobster, king prawns, octopus, clams, or even abalone. It’s not on right at the moment as we change the menu every week, but it does represent the style of food we cook at Sangsaka and we do lots of dishes in this same vein.
Shirin Tahanan is an Iranian recipe developer and co-founder of Persian Food Tours
Adas is the Persian word for lentils, along with Polo, which is the aromatic Persian rice. Polo or Polow, often called Persian rice pilaf in the West, is the name applied to rice with which other ingredients are mixed in rice in the cooking process. The most important point to have in mind is that Iranians don’t use any other type of rice except for basmati, a variety of long-grain rice with slender aromatic grains. Basmati literally means ‘fragrant’. The dish contains brown lentils, cinnamon and turmeric-spiced sauté minced meat, seedless raisins, dates, and a few other ingredients along with rice. The lentils are cooked in water and drained. The minced meat would be browned with onions and spices. The rice needs to be washed, soaked, and then cooked in boiling water up to the point where the rice grains are soft on the outside and still firm in the centre. Then it’s drain in a strainer and rinsed with cold water. And in the final step, you have to layer par-cooked rice with cooked lentils and cooked minced meat, and it’s all steamed together. Most Iranians would serve Adas Polo with sautéed raisins and dates in butter. Adas Polo is considered a comfort food, served during different gatherings, ranging from a simple family gathering to mourning ceremonies. (Recipe here on Persian Food Tours Instagram page).
Supplì – Deep-Fried Rice Balls
Angela is an Italian Rome-based travel writer whose blog Rome Actually is focused on traveling and living in the Italian capital
Supplì might not be a full meal, but for sure it’s a favourite rice morsel of pleasure of the Roman culinary tradition. Not to be confused with the Sicilian arancine, the original Roman supplì is a ball of rice cooked in a tomato sauce, which is usually a meat-based ragù, dipped in a mix of bread crumbs and eggs and deep-fried until golden. What distinguishes the Roman supplì from all the other deep-fried street food snacks and appetisers of Italian cuisine is their warm heart of stringy mozzarella cheese. In Rome, they say that it’s a good supplì when ‘it looks like a phone’ (solo se fa er telefono), meaning only if it’s stringy enough.
Apparently, the name ‘supplì’ was given by the French amused by the ‘surprise’ you find when biting into the crunchy rice balls. At the end of the 19th century, supplì were still only a street food sold by local hawkers, while now you can find them in the rosticcerie serving ready meals and pizza by the slice, another favourite Roman street food, and in the pizzerie serving the round pizza, where it’s on the menu as a starter. The king of Roman fried delicacies, supplì never fails to delight the customers of Supplizio, the eatery near Campo de’ Fiori entirely devoted to street food.
Tamago Kake Gohan
Tamago Kake Gohan is a very simple dish based on the best quality ingredients and cooked Japanese Koshikari rice, a super fresh raw egg, and slightly sweet seasoned shoyu (Japanese soy sauce). The rice is cooked in an electric rice cooker or by absorption method then spooned into deep individual bowls while piping hot. The egg is lightly whisked then poured over and folded into the rice, seasoned with the soy to taste, the heat of the rice just cooking the egg. The result is a more-ish, silky dish – like, say, an enriched congee – but with more textural rice. Some folks like to garnish the top with toasted sesame, nori, spring onions, or tiny, crunchy rice crackers called arare, but mostly it’s served as it is. Simply sublime.
It’s a dish most often served towards the end of an authentic casual restaurant meal, especially if alcohol has been involved. It’s also sometimes enjoyed in the home, even for breakfast. It’s essentially a comfort food and is relatively light on the stomach, yet incredibly satisfying. I tried it first at a relatively upmarket but ‘local’ izakaya in Kyoto with a sake brewery friend and his colleagues. When they ordered the dish by its nickname ‘TKG’, I had no idea what to expect. When it arrived, I thought now that is the last thing I feel like, however, one mouthful and I was hooked. Not only did it taste fantastic but it felt wonderfully nourishing. It may have helped soak up the litres of sake we’d consumed too!
Naem Pa – Rice Cracker Salad
Ponpailin ‘Noi’ Kaewduangdy is the owner-chef of Doi Ka Noi restaurant in Vientiane, Laos
I love naem pa, a Lao rice cracker salad with grilled fish, pea aubergines, herbs, fried shallots, and salad leaves. I use khao gai noi (‘little chick’) sticky rice from Xieng Khouang province, a premium organic rice, and the first Lao product to be awarded Geographical Indication status. For this dish, the sticky rice has to be cooked, cooled, formed into cakes, and the dried for several days. The rice cakes are then fried to make rice crackers. To make the rice cracker dish, a cracker is pounded in a large ceramic mortar to break it into small pieces. Grilled fish is then added, along with herbs, pea aubergines, fried shallots, dried chillies, lime juice, and fish sauce. This is served with lettuce leaves, fresh mint, and banana flower, and eaten as a wrap in the lettuce leaf. Despite being a delicious dish, naem khao is rarely found on restaurant menus. It is common to find the more well-known naem khao, rice ball salad, but naem pa is, in my opinion, a more delicious variation. My restaurant Doi Ka Noi offers a regularly changing menu and I feature naem pa a couple of times each month at weekends. It is always a popular dish.
Fried KFC Chicken Rice
Johnson Wong is the chef-owner of gēn 根 restaurant in Penang
We’ve recently been eating Fried Chicken Rice in the Japanese KFC chicken rice style for staff meals at my restaurant. Nothing fancy about it. Might be a dish you need to say goodbye to your healthy diet plans, but we all love it and it gives us full energy for restaurant service. We use Belacan Batter to fry the chicken because on the current menu we have a chicken wing served with Belacan (fermented shrimp paste). We use jasmine rice, chicken stock and fried chicken. The flavour of the rice depends on how you fry your chicken. You can choose either original or spicy batter if you like your rice to be spicy. We use the belacan batter to fry the chicken instead of salt and season it with a good soy sauce, which will give you a rich umami boom. Basically just wash the rice and place them in the rice cooker with the stock and seasoning/flavour you would like to add on to the rice. Also put the fried chicken in and cook the same way as how usually we cook our rice with rice cooker. The fat and the flavour from the fried chicken will just make the rice delicious after cooked. A tip: press the cook button of the rice cooker at least twice to get that layer of crisp burnt rice at the bottom, which is the part that everybody fights over.
Nasi Kerabu – Malay Herb Rice
Pauline Lee is the Malaysian-born founder of Simply Enak Food Tours, which is currently running virtual market tours and virtual cooking classes
One of my favourite Malaysian rice dishes is Nasi Kerabu or Malay Herb Rice. This particular dish is very famous in the Malaysia East Coast state known as Kelantan and you can find it everywhere in Kelantan. During the Eidulfitri Festival, we serve Nasi Kerabu for our Open House as the main dish. Once in a while we cook it at home and have a nice family meal over the weekends. There are many shops that sell this dish with more side dishes in Kampung Baru (the area where Simply Enak conducts our Market Food Tours). For this delicacy, you can also visit Rumah Makan Rizq Ibrahim in Kampung Baru.
We always use basmati rice for this dish, but you can also use any fragrant Thai rice as a substitute. Other ingredients to be added are lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves. The main ingredient to make the rice turn blue is Bunga Telang (butterfly pea flower). The sides include salted egg, some fish crackers, half a cup of daun kesum (polygonum or Vietnamese mint), half a cup of mint leaves, six long beans, and three ounces of bean sprouts (trimmed). To make the kuah tumis (spiced sauce) for this dish, prepare: three red chilies (serrano pepper, one inch of ginger sliced, one clove of garlic chopped, six shallots chopped, one piece of lemongrass (slice the bottom third into rings), one tablespoon of vegetable oil, half a cup of coconut milk (if you don’t have fresh coconut milk you can always substitute it with canned or boxed coconut milk), one piece of asam gelugor (tamarind) or two tea spoons of lime juice, one tea spoon of fish sauce), salt and sugar to taste.
Blend all the red chilies, sliced ginger, chopped garlic, chopped shallots, and lemongrass with two tablespoons of water into a paste. Heat vegetable oil in a small saucepan. Stir fry the spice paste until fragrant, for about 3-4 minutes. Pour in coconut milk. Add asam gelugor (tamarind), fish sauce, salt, and sugar. Stir fry until the sauce has thickened for another 3-4 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and the sauce is done. Use a rice cooker to make the rice. Heat two cups of water and soak the flowers for about 15 minutes until the water is blue. Add kaffir lime, lemongrass, rice, and salt, and cook the rice as you normally would in a rice cooker. For the sides, boil salted egg over medium heat for 15 minutes. Remove and when cool enough to handle, cut the salted egg in half. Scoop out the two salted egg halves with a spoon. To serve, place a bowl of fragrant blue rice in the middle of the plate. Then arrange the daun kesum, mint leaves, long beans, bean sprouts, salted egg, and kerisik ikan (coconut fish flakes) around the rice. Top the rice with 1-2 tablespoons of kuah tumis.
Nyonya Nasi Ulam – Nyonya Herb Rice
Mark Ng is the Penang-born owner of Ah Chong Fried Rice and a co-founder and culinary guide at Simply Enak
My favourite rice dish is Nyonya Nasi Ulam, Nyonya Herb Rice. This is a Penang Nyonya dish of Straits Chinese cuisine. My late grandma used to make this and I took on the recipe. It reminds me of my late grandma every time I make it. You can use short grain rice or even Thai fragrant rice. Ingredients wise, you’ll need Thai basil, daun kaduk (piper leaf), daun cekur (sand ginger leaf), turmeric leaf, kaffir lime leaf, lemon grass, fresh turmeric and shallots. For seasoning we use belacan (shrimp paste) powder, white pepper, salted fish (fried, then blended into floss form) and blended dried shrimp (after tossing over medium-heat in a pan).
To cook the rice, first rinse the rice with cold water to get rid of the starch. We rinse it at least 3-4 times. We then use the rice cooker to steam the rice and leave it to cool, best overnight. Use the piper leaf as the base leaf. Compact the centre of the piper leaf with Thai basil, piper leaf, sand ginger leaf, turmeric leaf and kaffir lime leaf. Roll up the piper leaf into a cigar-like shape. Finely julienne it and set it aside. Finely slice up the lemongrass at an angle. This applies the same to the shallot. Finely julienne the fresh turmeric. Once you’ve got the mise en place, it is time to assemble. Just put the rice into a mixing bowl with all the herbs and seasoning, give it a good mix, and season to taste. It’s best served with sambal belacan.
An alternative way to make the rice if you don’t have a rice cooker is to first rinse the rice, then in a pot bring the water to a boil. Please ensure that you have enough room for the rice to boil and move freely. I recommend two cups of rice to 1.5 litres of water. Once it is boiling, add in the washed rice. Let it boil; medium-heat is the lowest you go. Make sure it is not simmering, it has to be boiling. After seven minutes (more or less), taste the rice, ensuring that it is almost soft. Once it is soft, turn off the heat. Drain the rice. If not, you will end up having rice porridge. Put the rice back into the pot, and let the remaining heat steam the rice until it is fluffy. I also like claypot chicken rice. For this I cook the rice in the clay pot with the chicken and other ingredients. By doing so, the rice will soak up all the sweetness of the ingredients. It will be compact with awesome flavours. You’ll find the steps to how to make the claypot chicken rice on our Instagram feed.
Maryam Jillani is a Pakistan-born food writer and blogger at Pakistan Eats
Pulao or pilaf is a dish that is spread across multiple countries and can be found in some variation in all parts of Pakistan. The rice variety most commonly found or the one i am most familiar with is basmati rice. The defining feature of how good the pulao is in Pakistan is the quality of the rice and how well it’s been prepared. The second is how the onions have been caramelised which determine the flavor and color of the pulao. The process of “dum” is also super important because the steam will help ensure the rice is separated and fluffy. It is both an everyday food, especially when it’s chicken or vegetarian pulao. Mutton pulao was normally served on special occasions like Eid or dinner parties. Maryam’s recipe for Mommy’s Mutton Pulao.
Sinangag – Garlic Fried Rice
Cathie Carpio is a food and beverage consultant researching the culinary history of the Philippines and an occasional host of Filipino-Cambodian supperclubs
Sinangag is used to describe a cooking process that requires stir-frying food in a small amount of fat, but the term is colloquially synonymous with Filipino garlic fried rice. It’s a key ingredient in silog, a collective term for Filipino breakfast items with fried rice and fried egg with various protein components. (The most popular one is tapsilog, a shortened term for tapa — marinated beef that’s traditionally sundried, with fried rice and fried egg). Sinagag is typically made with long-grain rice, neutral oil (or other fat source), garlic, and salt. It’s meant to be made with leftover fried rice, a day old long-grain rice is preferred, but as long as you keep the moisture as minimal as possible, you can use rice cooked hours before you’re making sinangag.
In a medium-hot wok, add neutral oil and pour in your minced garlic and continuously stir until it reaches a light-brown colour before adding the rice in batches to ensure the rice is well-infused with garlic oil. While silogs were mostly sold in eateries originally, it has reached casual restaurants and contemporary Filipino restaurants. Toyo restaurant makes an excellent silog, for example, but uses short-grained sticky rice with free range eggs, and crispy fish skin. It’s traditionally a breakfast staple, but with the proliferation of eateries offering 24-hour services and restaurants offering it anytime of the day, it is no longer just a breakfast dish.
Nasi Lemak Kukus – Steamed Coconut Rice
Malcolm Lee is the chef-owner of Candlenut restaurant at the COMO Dempsey
Nasi lemak kukus is a rice dish from Malaysia and Singapore made with jasmine rice, galangal, lemongrass, pandan, and coconut milk. To cook the rice, use freshly extracted coconut milk for ‘lemak, a local term for richness, and steam the rice for more consistent fluffiness. You need to steam the rice twice, the first time with thinner coconut milk and the second time add coconut cream to steam. Nasi lemak kukus is eaten every day and any day for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and supper. It’s made and eaten in homes as well as at hawker centres, stand-alone shops, and restaurants. I love nasi lemak especially for breakfast and supper. When I was serving in army, it was my daily supper.
Nasi Dagang – Traders Rice
One of my favourite rice dishes is Nasi Dagang, from Peninsula Malaysia’s East Coast. It can be found in Kelantan and Terengganu, but I’m especially fond of the latter one. It’s made with regular jasmine rice and glutinous rice (the Nasi dagang in Kelantan is prepared with red rice), and fenugreek, shallots, ginger, and coconut milk. The rice is soaked in water, drained and steamed. Midway through the cooking process, the coconut milk is added, along with the aromatics. You can find it quite often in markets and little eateries in Terengganu. It must be eaten with a fish curry made with mackerel tuna.
The Big Mac Risotto
I make a rice dish called The Big Mac Risotto that is on our bar snack menu at Tippling Club and gets some very good press and feedback on it as it tastes exactly like a Big Mac. I even managed to get the Big Mac sauce recipe. It’s cooked like a traditional risotto using Aquerello 7 years Aged Carnaroli rice from Vercelli in Italy but it’s finished with ice berg lettuce, parmesan, and, instead of butter, we beat in our own Big Mac sauce. It’s then topped with an A5 Kagoshima wagyu patty and our own house made cheese slice and fermented cucumber.
Wilkie Road Special Egg Fried Rice
Emmanuel Bernardos is an Australian-born restaurateur based in Singapore for eight years
I make my Wilkie Road Special Egg Fried Rice with good quality black rice, organic free-range eggs, fresh peas, onion, garlic, freshly ground organic salt and pepper, shallots, and tamari. First make your omelette then let it rest. Wash then boil or steam the rice until al-dente. Finely dice then fry the onion until translucent. Add the rice, peas, tamari, and salt and pepper to taste. Plate then add the omelette, thinly sliced, and finely diced shallot. It’s made at my place on days off when I have a bit of time spare and food in the fridge, and if you ask nicely I’ll make it for you!
Ishay Govender is a journalist and author of Curry, Stories and Recipes Across South Africa
Growing up on rice as a staple means I am partial to all manner of African rice dishes, from West African jollof to mavrou, spicy beef on rice, served at Cape Malay celebrations. In our community the local creolised breyani, which broadly speaking has its roots in the Indian briyani, is a version made by the ancestors of southern Indian indentured labourers who were brought by the British to work on sugar cane plantations and railroads in South Africa’s east coast. Here, the breyani, developed over time, adapting to the tastes and limited means of the local population.
The style of breyani my grandmothers made and my own mother makes today, is more pilaf than steamed Hyderabad briyani. It’s made using cheaper, short-grain rice, tinged yellow with turmeric, as well as brown lentils and roasted or fried potatoes. More starch would feed more mouths. Popular versions include chicken, mutton or vegetable breyanis. The yellow rice is boiled, and drained, and the curried vegetables or protein are mixed before topping with the potatoes.
We didn’t grow up with rice cookers and so, I don’t use one. In the days before individually catered wedding meals, the vegetable breyani was prepared in enormous pots outside on wood fires by community cooks, was the popular dish to be served at Hindu ceremonies. Breyani is served with split pea dholl (similar to dhal), and a mass salad, as in Amasi, a Zulu fermented milk, similar to buttermilk. Much like Indian raita, mint and green chillies are swirled through it.
This particular dish, vegetable breyani, is the one that all my friends and colleagues who share a similar background from South Africa’s east coast with gather together, either in the canteen or on social media, to pine over in detail. It carries the memories of our childhoods. The wood fire is the scent of communities gathering to eat together and there simply is no other way to enjoy this dish – whether at a fancy wedding reception or at home – than with your fingers and surrounded by your family.
Rice was so important to my ancestors that one of the conditions in an 1874 notice drafted to lure Indians to work for the British included a promise of a specified ration of rice. At one point this did not materialise and it resulted in the invention of mealie rice, hominy split into shards to represent rice. This featured again in my early childhood in the 1980s, when South Africa was under a state of emergency during the latter part of the apartheid regime, with growing international sanctions. What did our community rely on then? Mealie rice, until we found freedom.
Moi – Malaysian Rice Porridge
Liam Ghani is a Malaysian-born cook and South African resident of 20 years who blogs at The Muddled Pantry and hosts cooking classes
Growing up in Malaysia moi was inextricably associated with being sick. As a child, I dreaded telling my gran Amah I wasn’t feeling well, as instead of sympathy I just got moi! The moment you announced you were feeling under the weather, all other dishes were off the table. Amah would invariably say, “You sick, ah? OK so you must eat moi ‘eh. Good for your throat one. Make you better, fast”. Now, many years on and much to my surprise, in my most fevered moments I find myself craving a wholesome bowl of chicken moi.
I’ve always thought the force-feeding of moi was a genius Asian parenting ploy to discourage kids from dragging out their convalescence. The moment I felt better I would immediately pronounce that I was cured and that it was safe for me to once again scoff down some deliciously oily char kway teow! The Moi Diet: Machiavellian parenting at its best or a grandmother’s love? Either way, Amah was right – it DID make me better, faster
Moi is typically eaten for breakfast (as well as convalescent food) and is found at hawker stalls in markets. Jasmine rice is typically used in Malaysia, but this varies. Rice is simmered in a stock until the grain completely loses its integrity and forms a thick porridge. Typically, moi is made in a rice cooker with a congee setting, though it can easily be made in a pot. The rice porridge can be made either using uncooked rice or leftover rice. The former takes longer, but produces a superior dish. In Malaysia and Indonesia, a chicken stock is the standard, though pork is commonly used elsewhere. I usually use the poaching liquid from my Hainanese chicken rice as the stock, reserving some meat as a topping – literally making it two dishes for the price of one!
The toppings are almost limitless, though the standard version consists of shredded poached chicken, spring onions, soy sauce, sesame oil, poached ginger, and garlic. Texture can be added using chak-way (fried dough sticks), deep-fried wonton wrappers, roasted peanuts, or toasted sesame seeds. It’s very easily to replicate outside Asia, as the basic ingredients are widely available. The toppings may vary, but generally speaking it is a simple way of getting an authentic taste of home, even here in South Africa.
Arroz Caldoso de Bogavante — Rice Stew with Lobster and Shellfish
Sebastian Lapostol is a Spain travel planner at Trufflepig Travel
Spain’s love affair with rice dates back to the 8th century when the Moors began cultivating it in the rich marshlands of eastern Spain and along the Guadalquivir in Andalusia. Of course, paella is perhaps the country’s most internationally recognised rice dish, but for me, my favourite has to be arroz caldoso de bogavante, a brothy rice stew served with lobster and shellfish.
Every grandmother has her own recipe, but the key is using one of the native, short-grain Spanish rice specialties. Some are protected with a regulatory DOP (Denominacíon de Origen Protegida), such as the Arroz de Calasparra (from Murcia) or Arroz de Valencia, cultivated throughout the region of Valencia, which is the birthplace of this dish’s famous relative, paella. Closer to where I live, in the province of Sevilla, rice is cultivated in the marshes near the rich Parque de Doñana, famous for its religious pilgrimage el Rocio, as well as for its wetlands.
As with paella, it’s important that the rice is of this short grain variety (similar to arborio in Italy for risotto) to absorb the rich broth, made from fish and shellfish (what the Catalans call a ‘fumet’). Saffron is another key ingredient which also adds the yellow tint to the rice, and, of course, bogavante or lobster, although less expensive versions exist that are made with langosta (spiny lobster), shrimp, clams, etc.
Unlike a paella which relies on a wide, shallow pan, cooking the juices off until you get that caramelised layer at the bottom that’s prized by Spaniards (called socarrat in Catalan), this dish is slowly stewed in an earthenware crock pot, with seasoning liberally thrown in, tasted, stewed for a bit more, adding the chunks of fresh lobster that have been quickly boiled towards the end. The result is a rice with enough broth to add a creamy, but not soupy texture.
Arroz caldoso is in reality a dish you can find all over Spain, blessed as it is by miles of coastline and some of the best seafood in Europe, but truth be known, it’s really the Valencians whom we have to thank for Spain’s rice dishes. The place that offers this dish that makes my eyes go misty is at Casa Bigote, located in the small fishing town of Sanlucar de Barrameda at the mouth of the Guadalquivir River, famous for their langostinos (jumbo prawns), manzanilla sherry wine, and for being the place that Magellan set off to circumnavigate the globe in 1519.
Head over to the fishing neighbourhood of Bajo de Guia on any given Sunday and locals will be peeling finger-licking delicious langostinos, and tucking in to arroz caldoso, washed down with chilled manzanilla (of course) at Casa Bigote or any one of the number of restaurants fronting the ocean and the beautiful Doñana Natural Park. As with any rice dish ordered in a Spanish restaurant, there are no individual portions, so an arroz caldoso is usually meant to be shared between 2-4 people.
Arròs a la Cassola de Bacallà i Carxofes – Rice with Cod and Artichokes
Francesc Castro is a Catalan journalist and co-founder of Barcelona-based Aborígens, a culinary tour company specialising in Catalan gastronomy
Arròs a la cassola de bacallà i carxofes (rice of cod and artichokes) is a traditional Catalan rice dish, quite common around the country, in Catalonia and the Catalan lands of Valencia and Balearic Islands such as Mallorca). Here in Catalonia (Catalunya) we have a huge tradition of eating rice as a family meal on Sundays, because it is cheap, because you can add whatever you have stored, and because with just a small amount you can feed a big number of people. This rice is also popular during Easter, when Catalans consume tonnes of cod. At that time, you can also add spinach and boiled eggs, even some raisins and pine nuts. It’s a typical Easter recipe. Beyond that time, it’s made whenever you like.
My grandma Maria was a Catholic woman and I remember spending Easter with her and my grandpa in a tiny village near Lleida, in Western Catalonia. Although I was educated as a Catholic I never had religious feelings and I was never concerned about Lent. I disliked it and I did not like following the abstinence and all its restrictions. Despite that, I was always willing to arrive on Saint Friday to get rid of meat for one day and get that rice for lunch. I loved the rice without the egg and the spinaches, just with the cod, the artichokes, raisins and pine nuts. We also had panadons, a kind of empanada with spinach, and sweet wine and dried nuts for dessert.
The good thing about this rice dish is that beyond the rice, the cod and the artichokes, you can add some green peas or even cauliflower, young garlic, etc. I used to eat it in late winter/early spring, and because it comes from our poor cuisine or our self-subsistence cuisine you can add any seasonal product. You can cook it as you would cook paella, but I like it better when it is in a clay casserole. And even when it is made in a clay casserole I like it dry. Some cooks make it wet or lightly wet.
To prepare it, you need a basic sofrito of onion, garlic, a bit of red and green capsicum, and tomato. Then you add the fresh artichokes (we use only the hearts, already peeled, and cut in quarters) and after a few minutes you add the salted cod, already rehydrated. Then it is time for the rice. Sauté it for a couple of minutes and then add it to the fish or veggie broth. Cook it in a medium fire for 14-16 minutes and it’s ready. You can also end the last 5 minutes in the oven.
Paella de Pollo – Chicken Paella
Guillaume Jaques is co-founder/co-owner of Barcelona Slow Travel, a food tour company offering farm to table experiences in Barcelona and beyond
Paella de Pollo or chicken paella was originally from Valencia but can be found all over Spain today. Any paella has to be cooked with Spanish short-grain rice, which I personally source directly from a small organic rice farm from the Delta del Ebro, located in southern Catalonia. You’ll also need a whole chicken, which you can debone and use the bones to make a tasty chicken broth, and plenty of seasonal vegetables. (If you’re in Spain, this is the most fantastic chicken producer in Catalonia. We just visited them two weeks ago and stayed three nights at their masía in the forest, as part of our 100-day Catalonia tour to support small producers.)
As with any paella recipe, sea salt, saffron, pimentón (Spanish paprika) and tomatoes cannot be missing! A paella, in Spanish, literally means a frying pan, so the paella is always cooked in a special wide and shallow paella pan. Unlike many other rice dishes, the rice is added at the end of the recipe, together with the chicken broth, and cooked without stirring a single time! Paella is a great classic at home celebrations all around Spain and is usually had over weekends or family celebrations, as you need time to cook and enjoy it – and let’s not forget some extra time for a digestive siesta afterward. (Ed: while you’re waiting for your paella, read our interview with Guillaume about ‘overtourism’)
Khao Pad Rot Fai – Train Fried Rice
Khao Pad Rot Fai or Train Fried Rice is a Thai rice dish that’s traditionally found being made and sold at train stations or on board trains in Thailand. This is a dish I first had when I was a child going from Bangkok to Hat Yai with my mother and sisters by train. I make it with cooked jasmine rice, vegetable oil, soy sauce, oyster sauce, sugar, pepper, egg, lime (to season after cooking), scallion/spring onion, Asian broccoli, sliced pork loin, sliced onions, chopped garlic, sliced tomato, and, very importantly, yentafo sauce. I recommend using day-old cooked jasmine rice (or another Asian long grain rice) and mix the yentafo sauce into the rice before cooking in the wok. Cook the garlic and pork together and set aside, then scramble the eggs before adding the rice, the vegetables, and the cooked pork. I made a video cooking this dish recently as part of UNICEF’s Chefs Challenge to promote healthy nutritious eating for children and families.
Khao Aob Mor Din – Clay Pot Rice
Another unique rice dish that I make at Issaya Siamese Club (closed for renovations until November) is Khao Aob Mor Din or clay pot rice, which is my interpretation of a Chinese Thai dish that my father used to make. This dish is made up of a variety of rices, grains and legumes, including jasmine brown rice, black rice, riceberry, barley, kidney beans, mung beans, and pearl barley, as well as chopped Chinese olives, garlic and Chiang Mai mushrooms. Each of the different types of rice, grains and legumes have different cooking times, so need to be cooked individually, then all the ingredients are combined when wok-fried together. The dish is then put into a hot stone bowl or clay pot and served sizzling tableside. My father used to make the original version of this dish often for my family at home in Bangkok.
Fried Rice with Crab or Pork
Supinya Junsuta, known as ‘Jay Fai’, is the chef-owner of Michelin-starred Raan Jay Fai in Bangkok
I personally love crab or pork fried rice. My fried rice is Chinese style and I always use day-old steamed Jasmine rice to cook my fried rice. I make it mild as I like to later add some chili fish sauce (prik nam pla). I start by cooking the crab meat or pork with egg in the wok, mixing it until it dries out, then I add some jasmine rice. Keep the temperature low while mixing everything together. If it’s crab fried rice, make sure you don’t crush the crab meat too much. Add a little bit of sugar and fish sauce. For fried rice in Thailand, fish sauce is a must. Cook until your fried rice is dry. Add some green onion before serving.
Crab Fried Rice
Thitid ‘Ton’ Tassanakajohn is chef-owner of Le Du restaurant and Mayrai Wine Bar in Bangkok
Crab fried rice for sure!!! Used old harvested jasmine rice. Used leftover rice. Fry with pork fat, garlic, and onion. Quickly stir with egg until almost cooked. Add rice and scallions. Top with crab meat. I like the crab fried rice at a restaurant on the street that’s called Here Hai Crab Fried Rice.
Khao Yum – Mixed Rice
Pim Techamuanvivit is the executive chef of Nahm restaurant at the COMO Metropolitan, Bangkok
Khao yum is a rice dish originally from Southern Thailand that features jasmine rice, herbs, vegetables, fruit, crunchy bits, and a flavourful sauce. ‘Khao’ means ‘rice’ and ‘yum’ means ‘mix’ or ‘the act of mixing or tossing’. My vegan version of khao yum features turmeric-scented rice with seasonal vegetables and tamarind sauce. Thai jasmine rice (Hom Mali) is what one should use for khao yum. I suggest you rinse the rice a couple of times for the grains to be more separate. When it comes to seasoning the rice, most people do not add any salt during the cooking process since the sauce added to it is so flavourful and pungent. However, I do like to scent it with turmeric, but you can also leave it plain, or add butterfly pea powder to turn the rice blue. I only use Thai rice at nahm, as it’s not only what I grew up with but also my favourite type of rice. When buying Thai jasmine rice, it should smell slightly floral – hence the name – so I recommend that people purchase it in small quantities to use up, as the rice’s quality diminishes over time.
Kao Moo Tod Kratiam Prik Thai – Rice with Fried Pork, Garlic and Pepper
Chalee Kader is chef-owner of 100 Mahaseth restaurant in Bangkok, Thailand
Kao Moo Tod Kratiam Prik Thai is a very simple common dish that everyone loves, not given enough love the world over. From the name itself, we can break down its make up – Kao meaning rice, Moo is pork, Tod is Fried, Kratiem is garlic, and Prik Thai is pepper. There are various ways to go about cooking this rice dish depending on the interpretation of each household or cook. My favourite version is taking the pork, or your preferred protein, season it with some fish sauce or salt, and fry it in a pan with lots of oil until it has a nice colour. Drain the oil, leaving just a couple of tablespoons of oil in the pan. In the same pan, turn up the heat and stir fry the garlic with the pork until the garlic turns a nice yellow colour, season with fish sauce, soy, a tiny bit of sugar, and white pepper. Serve this over steamed rice with a fried egg, coriander leaves, cucumber slices, and fish sauce with some chilies.
Khao Ping – Grilled Parcels of Rice and Sweet Pork
Chef Duangporn ‘Bo’ Songvisava, along with husband Dylan Jones, are the chef-owners of Bo.lan, the former Michelin-star fine diner reinvented and now home to casual eatery ERR, Wasteland bar, an exclusive chef’s table, Bo.lan Grocer, and a Sunday market.
One of my favourite rice dishes is Khao Ping (ข้าวปิ้ง). We serve it from time to time at our restaurant Bo.lan in Bangkok. I found the recipe in the old cookbook by พระวิมาดาเธอ พระองค์เจ้าสายสวลีภิรมย์ กรมพระสุทธาสินีนาฏ ปิยมหาราชปดิวรัดา H.H. Princess Saisavali Bhiromya, Princess Suddhasininart. She was the head of the royal kitchen during the time of King RAMA V. Her tenure was from 1881 to 1910. You’ll need jasmine rice. Any variety; not sticky. You’ll also have to make a classic chilli relish of shrimp paste with coriander roots (three), birds-eye chillies (two tablespoons), Thai garlic (one tablespoon), shallots (quarter of a cup), one tablespoon of shrimp paste), half a tablespoon of coconut sugar, half a tablespoon of fish sauce, quarter cup of lime juice ¼ cup, half a tablespoon of tamarind water, pinch of salt, two tablespoons of roasted pea aubergines, and one thinly-sliced hairy aubergine. Pound everything together to make the chilli relish. It should taste spicy, salty, sour, and not too sweet.
Next, make the sweet minced pork belly (skin off) with palm sugar and fish sauce. You’ll need half a cup of minced pork belly, three quarters of a cup of palm sugar, four tablespoons of fish sauce, one pandanus leaf, two pieces of star anise, one cinnamon stick, two pieces of cardamom, three cloves, and one bay leaf. Toast all the spices until fragrant. In a pot, melt sugar and fish sauce, and boil for 30 minutes. You’ll also need some deep-fried Thai garlic and an egg.
Cook the rice as per normal. Combine two cups of cooked rice with half a cup of chilli relish. Add half cup of sweet pork and mix well. Taste the mixed rice and make sure that it’s spicy, slightly salty, sour, and sweet. Add one egg and mix together. Sprinkle on a quarter of a cup of deep-fried garlic. Place two banana leaves down, scoop the rice mixture onto the banana leaf, wrap it up, and secure it with a small sprig. Grill the parcel over charcoal for about 15 minutes or until the egg cooks.
Khao Pad Ayakan – Jok’s Kitchen Fried Rice with Yunnan Ham and Egg
My favourite rice dish is the khao pad ayakan at Jok’s Kitchen in Chinatown, cooked by Chef Jok. It has Yunnan ham and egg in it, perfectly fried and fluffy, never greasy. I just love Jok. He does the best fried rice. He is Teochew, like the majority of Chinese Thais. Second generation; his father immigrated from Swatow. It’s a tiny hole-in-the-wall operating from the chef’s home and the alleyway outside. He used to only have one table, but now he has three. Reservations essential. He’s such a character. He leaves things on the floor because his kitchen is so tiny. It’s probably not the most hygienic place, but it’s the tastiest. His wok, I believe, is only rinsed out, never scrubbed. He uses day-old rice. Jok started cooking after going bankrupt with his various business ventures. Many of his dishes come from things he ate as a child growing up in Chinatown that he wanted to replicate. The fried rice dish was created for the prosecutors who were working late. It was just stuff he had in his fridge at the time.
Sticky Rice with Mango
Nooror Steppe, owner-chef of the Blue Elephant Cooking Schools and Restaurants in Bangkok and Phuket
There’s a famous Thai saying: “There’s fish in the water and rice in the fields”. Rice is the heart and soul and a way of life of the Thais. Thai people were originally farmers. Thailand is divided into four regions. In the central region white rice is eaten, those in Isan and the northern region eat sticky rice, and the southerners prefer to eat rice noodles with curry. The staple food for those from Isan is sticky rice normally eaten with such dishes as Laab Kai and Somtam. They eat sticky rice rolled into balls for breakfast to feel full and for energy. Rice is also used to make into noodles such as Phad Thai, which was invented to promote rice noodles during World War II.
The Thais like to eat rice with curry so the rice must not be crumbly or stuck together. The rice must be rinsed clean before placing in rice cooker, then fill with water one inch above the rice to prevent the rice from being watery thus not as tasty once cooked. I like to use chemical-free Mali rice from Isan. A new type of rice grain was distributed at the annual Royal Ploughing Ceremony for planting in the rice fields. It was none other than Riceberry, which has become so popular in Thailand. It contains very little sugar. Those with diabetes will substitute riceberry for normal rice. Riceberry, invented by Kaset Kampaeng Phet University, is a mixture of black fragrant rice and Mali rice.
To make Sticky Rice with Mango, I use the very tasty Nam Dok Mai mangoes from Chacheongsao, when they are in season in March and April. Both Thais and foreigners alike love to eat mango and sticky rice with Kiew Ngu (‘snake’s fang) sticky rice. First, the sticky rice grains must be soaked in water for three hours. Then heat coconut milk, sugar and pandan leaf together, and mix it with the sticky rice, then serve with the mangoes.
Trat Style Fried Rice with Stir-Fried Crab Roe and Prik-Klua
Thanaruek ‘Eh’ Laoraowirodge, Founder/Owner of Somtum Der and Supanniga Eating Room restaurants
One of my favourite rice dishes is the Trat-style fried rice with stir fried crab roe and prik-klua. This rare single dish from Trat, hometown of my Khun Yai (grandmother), is a nostalgic dish from my childhood, even though I was born and raised in Khon Kaen. Every time I visit Trat, I always have this dish and it’s the first dish that comes to my mind when thinking about the food from Trat. The dish has existed for a long time and only can be found in Trat province, and from my experience it’s now also very rare to find it in the restaurants of Trat. Many of the dishes on the menu of my Supanniga restaurants are the recipes of my grandmother, Somsri Chantra (1930 – 2011), who was born and raised in Trat but after marrying moved to Khon Kaen.
Most people think of prik-klua as the typical Thai chilli-salt mix, but in the coastal province of Trat on Thailand’s eastern seaboard, it’s a green chilli sauce dip made from pounded green chillies, salt, garlic, lime, and sugar, often eaten with seafood. The rice that goes well with dish is Jasmine Rice. We use Homkroon rice (homkroon means ‘warm scented’ in English), a perfect organic rice blended with pandan-scented Thai jasmine rice. How to cook this dish is really simple. After you’ve made the sauce, stir-fry fresh crabmeat and crab roe together with jasmine rice, and combine everything. We don’t put fish sauce or soy sauce in it. My love of this dish is what motivated me to put it on the menu of our delivery service, Soodkua by Supanniga and it’s now become of the most popular dishes.
Khao Jee – Grilled Rice Coated with Egg
Weerawat ‘Num’ Triyasenawat is the chef-owner of Samuay & Sons restaurant in Udon Thani in Northeast Thailand
One of my favourite rice dishes since I was a kid is called Khao Jee. Basically, it’s grilled rice that you coat with an egg. During the first rice harvest season, the Issan people from Northeast Thailand enjoy this dish so much. Mostly we have it as breakfast. The ingredients for this dish include local sticky rice, egg, salt, and coconut cream (optional). First soak the rice in the water at least five hours, then you drain it, and cook it in a steamer for at least 30 minutes. Take it out, then use a stick to massage the rice in order to make it softer (this is an Issan technique), then season with salt. Pour half a cup of coconut cream onto the rice, and cover it to let the sticky rice absorb the coconut cream. When the rice is set and has cooled down, shape the rice into a patty form, and grill over charcoal. While the rice is grilling, beat an egg, season it with salt, and brush it on the rice. Repeat this action until the egg is cooked and the grill rice has turned a golden-brown colour. I love this dish because it’s my comfort food and always brings back my childhood memory of going to the morning market in Issan, where you will see this dish and see people making it fresh every day.
Perde Pilavı – Curtain Rice / Wedding Rice
Lisa Morrow is an Australian-born travel, food and opinion essay writer who has lived in Turkey for more than ten years. She blogs at Inside Out in Istanbul
My favourite Turkish rice dish is called Perde Pilavı and it comes from the Siirt region in southeast Turkey. Literally translated it means ‘curtain rice’ because it is essentially a rice mix encased in dough (the curtain). It’s also known as Wedding Rice as it is given to the gelin (bride) when she enters her mother-in-law’s home. Each ingredient in Perde Pilavı contains a separate message and meaning. The curtain represents the need to keep secret any problems the bride might find in her new household. The individual rice grains symbolise abundance and fertility, while the almonds represent grandchildren. The black pepper represents the bitterness of life, as well as humour – a necessary quality for brides in dealing with their mother-in-laws in Turkey. In the past, rooster or partridge meat was used, and stood for the head of the house. Over time this has been replaced by chicken.
Typically, Perde Pilavı is made with Baldo, a round short grain rice, chicken, chicken liver, peeled almonds, currants or pine nuts, eggs, olive oil, butter, flour, cinnamon, allspice, dough, salt, and pepper. For the rice mix, simmer a whole chicken in a large pot until cooked. Keep the stock. Remove the chicken skin, strip the meat from the bone, and fry until lightly browned. Soak the rice in salty water for 20 minutes, then rinse and drain. Melt butter in a pot and lightly fry the rice for 3-4 minutes, then add the chicken stock, almond, currants or pine nuts, and salt. Cover with a lid and simmer until then rice softens, add the livers, then remove from heat when the rice is par-cooked (make sure it does not change colour). Stir in cinnamon, allspice, and black pepper.
To make the dough, combine eggs, butter, salt, olive oil, and some chicken stock in a bowl. Slowly add flour and stir until a smooth consistency is reached. Divide the dough into two balls, one large and one small, and roll out flat. Leave to rest for 10 minutes. Place the almonds at the bottom of a special dome-shaped Perde Pilavi pot, liberally lubricated with olive oil. Then press the largest flour disc into the void. Layer the rice mix and boiled chicken strips until the pot is full. Seal the mix with the smaller round of dough, allowing the crimped edges to hang over the sides. Bake in an oven until the dough turns a golden brown. Turn out on to a flat plate and enjoy.
If you speak Turkish you might enjoy this clip of Lisa Morrow on Turkish television eating Adana Kebab after she excluded it from a CNN Travel story on top Turkish dishes.
UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
The staple of most of the Middle East has always been bread which is so integral, people call it ‘ash’ which means ‘life’. Rice, on the other hand, would have been seen as a richer man’s dish rather than something that would have been the common man’s food back in the day. It’s often served as a festive dish, for example, Jordanian mansaf, which combines lamb slow cooked in preserved yogurt (jameed) served over rich buttery rice and veiled with thin bread is something you’d see at weddings or other big family gatherings.
It’s quite similar in Iran, where bread is the main staple but special occasions and feasts call for platters of painstakingly prepared pilafs. You’re really not going to find rice being dished out at common street stalls in most of the Middle East, unlike say, in Malaysia where nasi lemak is so easily available from street vendors, which is a clear indication of where rice falls in the food chain. In the Gulf, interestingly, rice has evolved into the staple dish, and if you say ‘ash’ in one of these countries, it refers to rice and not bread. But in India and Pakistan, rice is definitely a staple along with bread. In the North, people have bread before rice, and in the South, rice really dominates the meal and finds its way into unique dishes like dosas, idlis, iddiyappams and more.
I love the Persian-style rice platters from Iran that blend sweet and savoury by combining meat or chicken in the rice with herbs, dried fruit like zereshk berries, prunes or apricots, and tons of pistachios. You’d call this ‘polo’ in Iran, as with baghali polo, and you’ll find versions of these all over Central Asia as well, in places like Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan for instance, that do these extravagant ‘plovs’.
I use the recipe from Najmieh Batmanglij’s book Food of Life – Ancient Persian and Modern Iranian Cooking for a classic Persian chelow with basmati rice. Her method involves first washing the rice really well to remove all the impurities and depending on the variety of rice, some need to be soaked overnight as well. Then the rice is boiled with a splash of rosewater and cardamom until it’s soft, just past al-dente but not overcooked. Drain the rice. Then take about half the quantity of the drained rice and mix it with lots of butter and oil (yes, both!), yogurt, and saffron water, and layer it on the bottom of a pot, patting it down so it’s flat and even. Then layer the rest of the rice in a pyramid, sprinkling in a little saffron water and some more water to help the rice continue to cook. There’s more – it’s complicated – but if you do it right, you’ll get a beautiful rice cake with a buttery crunchy crust on the top!
Farida Ahmed is the Hyderabad-born co-founder and general manager of Frying Pan Adventures and co-host of the Deep Fried podcast
My favourite rice dish is a staple across most of India, khichdi, which denotes ‘mixture’ or ‘hotchpotch’ and is the inspiration as well as root for English Kedgeree and Egyptian Koshari. At its most basic, khichdi is a one pot dish that comprises rice, lentils, salt, and turmeric. There are numerous versions of khichdi across India and it is safe to say that it is a part of nearly every Indian’s diet. In my native city, Hyderabad, khichdi, keema (spiced minced meat) and khatta (tangy tamarind-sesame broth) is the breakfast of champions.
My mum taught me to make it using basmati rice, although you can make it with other rice varieties. While the most common lentil used is mung daal, I am partial to masoor (red lentil) daal and you just literally need to put all the basic ingredients in the pot, add water and boil until the water has evaporated. I love when my mum elevates this mellow dish into a fragrant potpourri by adding onions, cumin seeds, cinnamon, and ghee.
While khichdi may not be the most complex of dishes in our culinary repertoire, it is the dish that is most connected to our soul. Probably because it is usually the first solid food that we consume as babies, as well as our turning to its nutritious, restorative powers when ill. But khichdi is so much more than just baby or patient food, it also forms a part of celebrations. In some homes khichdi takes on an almost porridge-like consistency while in others it may be cooked in a more pilaf-like manner, especially if accompanied with other dishes.
When we were learning how to make rice, growing up, mum taught us the measure water with your finger method. Usually in our homes it’s one person who does all the cooking. I recall mum asking us to measure the water up to the second mark on our index finger (it is that finger we were taught to use) and intuitively as I grew older I measured it up to just a little over the first mark. And for some reason it has always worked, well at least for me! To this day, whenever I make rice at home, I still measure it in this way and its very rare that I have either used too much water or to less. I guess this is one of those culinary techniques that defies logical explanations.
Rice is really such a touchy topic among cultures where it is a staple. Because at its core, anything that has the power to form shared bonds and unify also has the power to incite conflict. Its two sides of the same coin really. In cultures where rice is a staple to the point that it is venerated, people often give in to an almost despotic urge to claim it entirely for their own. This can lead to a tunnelling phenomenon where we begin to feel that only we know the true way of cooking it or that the way we have been taught is the only way to do it.
For example, my late paternal granny could not abide eating plain white rice that was sticky or gloopy. She needed every grain to be separate and if you were able to cook it with a slight crust then even better. For her this was the right way and this could be a product of conditioning coupled with her own childhood experiences. So for the longest time, I thought it was the only way until I travelled and learned that in most other Asian cultures cooking the perfect sticky rice was a claim to fame in the kitchen.
As to why we all care so much about rice, I feel this has to do with its widespread accessibility, simplicity, and the satiety value that we derive from it. An ingredient that can be consumed by all classes of society, that requires minimal effort to cook, and that can sate the appetite, even just on its own, deserves to be cherished. In many rice-eating cultures, the first meal a baby is often given during the weaning stage is a mushy rice concoction and often in our twilight years, as well, as this is what we can digest easily.
Chinese Clay Pot Rice
Mei Lin is the chef and owner of Night Shade restaurant in Los Angeles
My favourite rice dish is a Chinese clay pot rice with squab, lap cheurng and shiitake mushrooms is typically made with a long grain rice, ginger, garlic, sugar, shaoxing wine, dark soy marinated squab, Chinese sausage and dried shiitake mushrooms. This is key, because you will use this liquid to cook your rice. There’s a version with chicken as well if you cannot find squab. You want to soak the rice in cold water for at least 30 minutes and wash away all the starch, taking care not to break up the grains. I like to cook this dish in a donabe clay pot instead of your traditional Chinese clay pot. This is definitely a home style dish that you find in people’s homes and it’s eaten anytime.
Bai K’dang – Crunchy Rice
Rany Fischer is a Khmer-American cook, gardener and maker of chilli oils at Rany’s Kitchen and Garden
I make a lot of bai k’dang. It’s jasmine rice, cook and then turned up to make a crunchy bottom. It’s enjoyable for me to eat with bok or jerky. It’s only made with jasmine rice, always new crops, the latest harvest. I do not use a rice cooker. I have a big old pot I only use for rice. I clean the rice with cold water a few times. Then I cover the rice with water – using my index finger I measure from the top of the rice to the first knuckle. I cook the rice on medium to high heat uncovered. Once it boils I let the water recede. When the water has evaporated right down to the top of the rice, I put the lid on and turn it down to the lowest heat. After ten minutes, I turn the heat to medium to make the bottom crunchy. I learned how to make rice at age six years old. I burnt rice once and was smacked. I never burnt rice again. It took a while to perfect rice. I know how I like it now, texture, and good rice. Bai k’dang is usually enjoyed by the elderly. I’m an old soul and I use to sit and eat with the grandmas as they tell stories about the old country, before the war, when it seemed that Cambodia was in its golden age. Music and loved filled the air. There was a lot of romance and pageantry that was lost. Bai k’dang with our elders is about the stories.
Anagha Godbole is an Indian-American culinary expert, food stylist, photographer, MasterChef India contestant, and publisher of The Saffron Touch.
Gopal Kala is a dish made with pounded rice. The rice is parboiled, rolled, flattened and dried. The same dried rice flakes are rehydrated and used in many dishes. In this dish buttermilk or yogurt is used to rehydrate the rice. Other ingredients like cucumber, green chilies and cilantro add the amazing flavour. Pohe are considered a poor man’s food. It’s cooked in many ways and often eaten as a snack or breakfast. Pohe have a long shelf life and hence are perfect for the hot weather of India. They are like a blank canvas and take on whatever flavour you add to them. This particular recipe is very close to my heart. My paternal grandmother, who was a devotee of Krishna, would tell us numerous stories about him. We could all visualise pretty much Lord Krishna playing with his friends through her stories. This dish is made on Krishna’s birthday. Krishna was known to be the best of friends to his friends, and always united everybody independent of their status in the society. His friends would bring whatever little stuff they had in their homes and Krishna would take all of it and mix it together to make this dish. This was a testament to the fact that even simple things turn into something amazing with a touch of love and compassion.
Cơm Tấm Saigon – Saigon-Style Broken Rice
Peter Cuong Franklin is the chef-owner of ANAN restaurant in Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City
Cơm Tấm is a popular Vietnamese street food dish made from rice grains that are fractured during the rice handing process. Tấm refers to the broken rice grains, while cơm refers to cooked rice. Rice is so important for the Vietnamese that there are specific words for different forms and varieties of rice. For example, raw rice is called gạo, whereas cooked is called cơm. The word cơm is synonymous with eating in Vietnamese culture. When greeting a close friend or family member the Vietnamese often say: “ăn cơm chưa” which means “have you eaten?”
Cơm Tấm originated from the Mekong Delta, the rice and agricultural basket of Southern Vietnam. The broken rice fragments result from the rice handling process so rather than throwing the broken rice out the poor families cooked it for their personal use at home. Saigon has a large population of poor migrant workers from the Mekong delta who most likely brought the com tam with them from the countryside. Nowadays, it has evolved into a classic Saigon dish that must be experienced when visiting the city. An elaborate and hearty dish, Cơm Tấm Saigon includes a grilled pork chop, shredded pork skin, steamed egg and pork frittata (similar to a meat loaf), fresh tomato, cucumber, pickled daikon and cucumber, along with a sweet and sour fish sauce dipping sauce. The dish is mostly consumed for breakfast and lunch. You can call it the full Vietnamese breakfast (similar to the full English breakfast) that is hearty, full of flavour and will carry you through the rest of the day.
At ANAN Restaurant, we make a gourmet version of Cơm Tấm Saigon with a thick steak of bone-in grilled lemongrass pork chop (traditionally the street pork chop is sliced very thin for easy quick grilling), steamed egg and pork frittata, a slowed cooked onsen egg and a fresh cabbage salad. Cooking the com tam rice can be a challenge since the rice grains are uneven and require different cooking temperatures and different water ratios compared to normal jasmine rice. The well-cooked com tam rice has a pleasant chewy texture similar to Italian risotto or el dente paste. It should be not too dry or too wet. Inspired by this I have made seafood paella with com tam rice and seafood broth which is quite nice. It is important to marinate the pork chops overnight in a mixture of fish sauce, sugar and lime to increase the flavour and keep the meat moist when grilling. It is very easy to dry out and over cook the tenderloin part of the pork chop, marinating the pork chops overnight solves this problem.
Xôi Thịt Kho Trứng – Sticky Rice with Braised Pork Belly and Stewed Eggs
The rice dish that I like is Xôi thịt kho trứng. It’s a traditional sticky rice dish in the North of Vietnam. You can have it anytime like breakfast, lunch or even dinner. It’s very simple but has heavenly flavours and is full of nutrients. There are many versions but the most famous one is made with sticky rice, braised pork belly, stewed egg in pork belly juice, and pickled vegetables.
The rice used here is gaọ nếp or glutinous rice, also known as sticky rice. To prepare the sticky rice, you must first soak it overnight in cold water. The long soaking gives the rice more flavour, but you can also take a short-cut and soak it in warm water for just two hours. The rice is then steamed in a rice steamer (not a rice cooker) over simmering water. Authentic sticky rice cannot be boiled directly in water like other types of rice.
For the braised pork belly, people will braise pork belly with simple caramel, shallot, fresh coconut juice, and fish sauce. For the egg, the best way is to boil it first, then pan-fry it to get a nice caramel colour and interesting texture, then cook it together with braised pork belly liquid to get the best colour. When you serve, offer your guests a good amount of hot sticky rice, then pour the braised pork liquid over the rice before adding a few pieces of braised pork belly, one egg, and a good amount of pickles to balance the fat.
This dish is mainly cooked and sold on the streets, in markets, and in front of schools. In Vietnam, there are many breakfast stores opening in front of schools or workplaces so people can buy filling dishes such as xôi before going to school or work. The dish is very simple and all-day eating and it’s actually one of the best dishes in Hanoi daily, along with other better-known traditional food like Phở or Bún Chả.
Xôi thịt kho trứng is in my blood because I’ve enjoyed it since I first started having any idea about food. My mom made it frequently, then after she became busy with work, I would buy it from street food the vendors. Even now, I have xôi once or twice a week. It’s a very good late-night snack for me after a long working day, even though it is very heavy to consume at night.
Cháo – Rice Porridge
Vu Vo and Barbara Adam operate Saigon Street Eats in Vietnam and Saigon Supper Club in Australia
Cháo is the Vietnamese version of chicken noodle soup for the soul. It’s similar – but better – than Chinese congee and its English translations of rice gruel or rice porridge really don’t do it justice. It’s made with short or medium grain rice (whichever is cheapest, but not sticky rice) and any form of protein: fish, chicken, pork, beef, seafood, offal, egg, or mung beans. Cháo is made in a rice cooker, with washed rice and about three times the amount of water you’d use to cook plain rice. It’s usually seasoned with fish sauce and chicken powder, garnished with chopped spring onion, coriander, Vietnamese mint (laksa leaf), and fried shallots, and served with little bowls of fish sauce and slivered ginger. If a whole fish or chicken is involved, it’s lifted out of the cháo and put on a flat plate for everyone to share. Vu’s mum’s version involves cooking the meat separately to the cháo to ensure the correct done-ness, and also so the cháo is clean and white, rather than grey with floaty bits. It’s mostly a home-cooked meal, although many small restaurants and street food places can do it for you. Most Vietnamese children are fed a steady diet of cháo, which is probably why it’s the go-to food when you’re sick and/or elderly.
If you’re a rice expert in a country not represented here, we’d love to hear from you and learn about your favourite rice dish. Please leave a comment below or get in touch with us via the contact page.