March 15, 2009

the true and glorious nature of fried rice

dried scallop & egg white fried rice

If you grew up anywhere or anything like I did, the fried rice of your youth was dark brown, salty, greasy and speckled with frozen mixed vegetables and tiny scraps of red roast pork and egg. And you slurped it up with vigor, but it was hardly the stuff of dreams.

Enter tallasiandude and his frequent workday lunches at the Vietnamese restaurants of north-eastern Massachusetts. He would come home rapturous over the fried rice at a couple of places in particular. And one day he brought me up there, and we ordered a plate of that rice. And then we ordered another plate because the first was so mind-bendingly delicious, perfect, bright, fresh, white, tasting of the wok heat and clean egg and shrimp and scallion.

Right around that same time, I was reading Mouth Wide Open by John Thorne (a gift from C, thanks, C!). In that excellent volume is an article about Mr. Thorne's similar progression of experience with fried rice, and since he lives in a less-urban area with less proximity to seriously good Asian restaurants, he went about figuring out how to make an excellent fried rice for himself. Having never managed a successful fried rice on my own by bumbling about experimenting, I tried his method, and holy kershnikeys, does it ever turn out good.

It's good even when you deviate a little bit and put in different vegetables or meats or seasonings according to the contents of your refrigerator. It's good with white rice or brown. It's good and hot and fresh and filling and tastes of toasted rice and heat and white pepper.

So it is with all this for background that we found ourselves at Vinh Sun in Boston's Chinatown, out on a hot date to eat dinner & see Watchmen after a really stressful couple of days. It was most stressful for me in particular, so I was getting to pick most of what we ordered, and for some reason I was drawn to the list of fried rices. The most unusual-looking one was listed as a "dried scallop and egg white" version, and it seemed like it might be a good flavor balance with the other stuff we were getting.

And it arrived, pristinely white and flecked with scallion, white pepper, big fluffy sheets of egg white, with reckless quantities of shredded dried scallop scattered over the top like golden pine needles. The rice grains were hot and toasty, almost chewy and bouncy in texture, and the whole thing was just perfect, light, savory, rich. The rice is a little different and the flavorings are different, but the spirit is the same, making it a distinctly Chinese version of those excellent Vietnamese fried rice dishes.

So now we know three places to go out and get superlative fried rice, and we make it at home as best we can. If you have reason to be in Boston Chinatown, try and get over to Vinh Sun and order some fried rice and taste for yourself how truly delicious it can be.

Posted by foodnerd at March 15, 2009 10:37 AM
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