Earlier today, Sam, who has been a vegetarian for a year and a half, sent a series of PMs on Facebook about her vegetarian diet. I wondered how a child whom I fed with so much meat while she was still in my tummy, and thereafter, could swear off meat as a young adult. The thought brought back memories of roast duck, sweet and sour pork and lumpiang shanghai — all in the form of rice toppings — in 1992, the year I was pregnant with her.
1992 was the year of rotating eight-to-sixteen-hour brown-outs. I was working in a law firm, the office was on the fourth floor of a Makati building and there was no generator. Because of my delicate pregnancy, I couldn’t get in and out of the building while power was out because the staircase was a no-no and I always had to wait for the power to go back on so I could take the elevator. Going to work in the morning was not a problem because power rarely went out before noon. It was going home that was a headache because, most days, power didn’t come back on until around 8.00 or 9.00 in the evening.
In short, I ate a lot of my meals in that office. That was how I discovered Kowloon House’s delivery service and the rice topping meals. We’re talking over twenty years ago but, back then, roast duck rice topping cost PHP65.00 and it was a huge meal with generous slices of roast duck. It was my absolute favorite. My second favorite was the sweet and sour pork rice topping and my third favorite was the lumpiang shanghai rice topping.
“Rice topping” is the Filipino term for single-serve rice bowl dishes. A deep bowl is filled with rice and the ulam, or viand (meat, seafood or vegetables, or a combination of one or all of them), is heaped on top of the rice. “Rice topping” dishes, labeled as such, can be found in the menu of Filipino and Chinese restaurants in the Philippines.
“Rice topping” dishes are found elsewhere in Asia although they are known by other names. In Japan, they go by the label donburi. “Don” means bowl and dishes with “don” at the end of their names are rice bowl dishes. So, you have oyakodon, katsudon, gyudon, tekkadon, tendon, and so on.
Korea has its signature rice bowl dish, the bibimbap (see my vegetarian version), and its less spicy sibling, the heotjesabap.
While there are dishes that are traditionally served in a rice bowl, cooking rice bowl dishes at home really translates to you can put any savory dish in a bowl of rice and serve it as a rice bowl meal. While family style meals with platters of meats, vegetables and rice on the table are more enjoyable and more appetite-stimulating, when cooking for one or two persons, serving rice bowl dishes, or rice toppings as we call it in the Philippines, makes more sense. They are more casual and relaxed, and you have so much less plates to wash.
What dishes are especially good for rice toppings?
Leftover roast duck
Sweet and sour pork
Lumpiang shanghai (fried pork spring rolls)
Chili peanut chicken
The pork version of P.F. Chang’s Mongolian beef
Stir fries like chop suey and beef with celery and ginger