Recently PF Chang’s opened its first restaurant in Puerto Rico in Plaza las Américas, the Caribbean’s largest shopping mall. This event has caused a huge furor among Chinese food lovers and followers of the PF Chang’s brand which created long waiting periods and lines for patrons to have a taste of what the casual dinning restaurant has to offer. I have eaten in several of the chain’s restaurants in the state of Florida and the food is really good. As a result of this recent event, it got me thinking how Chinese Fried Rice has become such a popular dish in America. It is comfort food to me and oftentimes I crave it!
I dare say most mayor cities in the United States as well as some Latin American countries, have a significant Chinese community which has contributed to the local cultural traditions and specialty dishes. Perú calls it Arroz Chaufa, in Ecuador is called Chaulafan, we call it Arroz Frito and in the USA the most popular is the Yangchow style fried rice also called special fried rice or combination fried rice.
I remember that as I was growing up my parents would take us to eat to chinese restaurants in Puerto Rico as well as abroad. I have even gone to a fancy chinese restaurant in Paris! As a matter of fact, I mastered eating my fried rice with chop sticks as a very young girl. Traditionally, chinese fried rice is served right before dessert, although when I make it at home I like to serve it all together with my favorite side of asian shrimp or orange flavored chicken. Among other things, I particularly love the mysticism that comes when you visit a good Chinese restaurant. The host, the decor, the buddhas, the dim lights, the artwork, the waitress dressed in traditional chinese attire, the way the waiter will serve the food on your plate from beautiful china. I like the fact that the food is presented in large trays to share with the rest of the fellow dinner guests. The Pekin Duck carved and assembled in front of you. The soy sauce in beautiful dragon ceramic vessels, salty spring rolls contrast with sweet sauce and my son’s favorite, the ribs. Ah! the pu-pu platter! Yeah, yeah, yeah all you purists out there might say most of this is an American-Chinese tradition/invention, but we all have embraced it and love it! Even the fortune cookies!!! However, there are not many traditional Chinese restaurants left in Puerto Rico like the one I describe. They have been replaced by fast food restaurants or less traditional places that include a mix of chinese and japanese food, generally called asian cuisine, to suit to many tastes. Don’t get me wrong, I happen to like some of these asian bistros, but its not the same culinary experience without the traditions and rituals that have characterized exclusively chinese food (or exclusively japanese o thai) restaurants.
Fried Rice is mostly made of steamed rice stir fried in a wok with other ingredients like eggs, vegetables, bean sprouts and/or left over meat or seafood and seasoned with sesame seeds and soy sauce. Bear in mind there are countless variations due to regional influences or just the left overs and ingredients that you have available. There is even a chinese fried rice adapted to japanese tastes called Cha-han! I’ve had my electric wok for almost 20 years now. It was a present from an ex-boyfriend during my college years and its where I still make my fried rice at home and everybody loooooves it!
My mother always told me that many families of chinese descent came to Puerto Rico during the time of the Cuban diaspora in the late 1950′s when Fidel Castro came to power after the Cuban Revolution. As history has showed, Castro’s regime took over all private property and nationalized businesses leaving many citizens with no other choice but to flee the country. Among them were the Chinese-Cubans who mainly went to Miami, New York, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. Many became involved in manual labor, manufacturing and businesses like grocery stores, restaurants and laundromats.
Cuba had a large Chinese community which originated when thousands of Cantonese men were transported to the island mid 19th century to work the fields alongside the African slaves. During the following decades more Chinese men from Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan were brought to Cuba as contract laborers or “coolies”. After their contract was completed, most settled permanently in Cuba. Generally, these men did not marry, but became sexually active with local white and black women. Children were produced from these relationships and as a result, the Chinese-Cubans were born. Some famous Chinese-Cubans were Fulgencio Batista (President of Cuba before Fidel Castro’s Cuban Revolution) and Wilfredo Lam (renowned Cuban artist). Havana’s Barrio Chino is one of the oldest Chinatowns in Latin America. In addition, during the 20th century, many Chinese went to Cuba and Puerto Rico from the United States to evade racial discrimination. Also, a number of families came from China to escape political instability. Today, there are many independently owned Chinese fast food restaurants in Puerto Rico and its food appeals to the locals, being rice a staple dish on the island.
Mom’s Arroz Chino Criollo with beef consommé is pretty awesome. Fried Rice is so good and easy to make. Fun to cook with the kids. I prep all ingredients first then start adding to the wok. Here I share with you my version of Fried Rice but keep in mind the options are limitless…
Stir fry or Sesame oil, about 2-3 tbsp
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup of ham, spam, leftover bbq ribs
1/2 cup finely chopped or julienne carrots
1/2 cup of finely chopped onion
1/2 cup of sweet peas, frozen
1 romaine lettuce, finely chopped
small shrimp (optional)
sesame seeds (optional)
bean sprouts (optional)
good quality soy sauce
1. Make Basic White Rice Recipe. Prepare and measure all other ingredients and set aside.
2. Heat oil in a wok at 350ºF and cook eggs like scrambled eggs, moving with a wooden spoon.
3. Add ham and shrimp (optional) and stir fry for about 2 minutes.
4. Add onions, carrots, scallions, sweet peas, lettuce and rest of optional ingredients. Stir fry for about 3 minutes.
5. Add rice and stir until well combined.
6. Add soy sauce to taste.