Browse through the menu of any Chinese restaurant in Manila and, among the fried rice items, Yang Chow fried rice is likely to be the most expensive. It’s not because it is more difficult to make — fried rice is just a stir fried dish made with cold rice and leftover meat, seafood and vegetables, and the cooking procedure doesn’t vary much from one fried rice dish to another. Yang chow is more expensive than others because of economics. Pork and shrimp, both Yang Chow staples, do not exactly come cheap.
Ordering Yang Chow fried rice in the Philippines has become a sort of strange ritual. Like, eating a Chinese meal is no good unless all the highly-seasoned dishes are accompanied by Yang Chow. And I have to admit that I’m guilty of this ritual. It has become automatic to order Yang Chow fried rice in a Chinese restaurant to accompany an array of saucy dishes and stir fries although it is a different story at home which I will talk about more later.
The curious thing is that in traditional Chinese cooking Yang Chow fried rice and all similar fried rice dishes are considered to be peasant food made with scraps of leftovers, a small amount of vegetables, and basic seasonings and spices. A stand alone dish. A complete meal because it has everything in it already — grain, seafood or meat or both, vegetables and seasoning. Traditionally, when the Chinese eat all those highly seasoned meat and seafood dishes, they are accompanied by plain steamed fluffy white rice which is neutral enough in taste so that it does not compete with the flavors of the main dishes.
Fried rice, along with egg foo yong (torta, in Filipino terminology) and chow mien (any variety of stir fried noodles that, in the Philippines, are all known by the generic name “pancit canton”), are inventions brought about by frugal practices. Waste nothing — leftovers can be transformed into totally new and tasty dishes. Be creative — a little meat, seafood and vegetables can be stretched by a good cook to feed an army, if need be.
At home, it is not uncommon for my family to eat fried rice and nothing else. It’s one of the two ways I deal with leftovers, the other being the ubiquitous torta which my daughters aren’t really very fond of. And fried rice is something I resort to when I only have about 15 minutes to prepare a meal. Of course, my home version of Chinese fried rice is such that with every mouthful, one gets a substantial amount of meat or seafood or both. And I like using a lot of vegetables, in different colors or shapes or both, to make the dish more visually appealing.
It’s a practice that many people find strange (I’ve had a friend ask once if we eat fried rice and nothing else because we’re in dire financial straits) but my daughters love fried rice. Even for school lunch boxes, it has always been one of their most requested dishes. And fried rice is such a practical thing to pack too. It requires only one container and it is convenient to eat. No need to deal with bones or cutting large chunks of meat. A spoon or a fork will do.
And so it was that, last Saturday, lunch was Yang Chow fried rice and miso soup. And nothing else. And my daughters and husband ate happily.
Yang Chow fried rice, like all other Chinese fried rice dishes, demands no strict list of ingredients. As it has become popular in restaurants, however, char siu (barbecued) pork, shrimp bits, green peas, scallions and eggs have become staples. Here’s how you can make Yang Chow fried rice at home. Good for four.
- 4 c. of cold cooked rice, sprinkled with a little water and stirred to separate the grains
- ½ c. of chopped char siu pork (see note at the end)
- ½ c. of chopped fresh shrimps
- 1 pc. of Chinese sausage (longganisa Macau), roughly chopped
- ½ c. of sweet peas (thawed and drained if frozen)
- a bunch of scallions (onion leaves), cut into one-inch lengths
- 3 eggs, lightly beaten
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 2 tbsps. of peanut (or soya or vegetable) oil
- 2 tbsps. of oyster sauce (optional)
- a drizzle of sesame seed oil
- Method 1: Heat the cooking oil in a wok. Add the pork and sausage and stir fry for about 30 seconds or just until heated through. Add the shrimps and peas and cook until the shrimps change color. Add the rice. Season with salt and pepper; pour in the oyster sauce, if using. Stir gently but thoroughly and cook until the rice is hot. Pour in the beaten eggs. When the eggs are partially set, sit and continue cooking until the eggs are cooked through. Drizzle with sesame seed oil and stir before serving.
- Method 2: Heat the cooking oil, pour in the eggs and cook just until set. Lift with a slotted spoon and cut into fine strips. Continue as above. Add the eggs just before drizzling with sesame seed oil.