Would you believe there are T-shirts that read “Got Rice?” That was never a question we had to ask in my house. We always had rice, and plenty of it.
For years, rice was my culinary albatross. It was a constant reminder that my Chinese roots were inescapable--as inescapable as the emphatic “click!” the rice cooker made every night when its timer went off. That brief sound echoed throughout our three-bedroom house. My younger sister and I would know it was time to wash our hands and dispense milk and water glasses for dinner.
Growing up in Houston, I was embarrassed to tell my classmates that we ate steamed rice with everything, every night. Just thinking about it made me so fidgety you may have thought my black patent Mary Janes were too tight.
I remember being 10 years old and having dinner at my friend Karen’s house for the first time. Baked chicken. Rolls. Canned corn. And a CorningWare dish of green Jell-O salad. Not even a mention of rice. That seemed downright weird.
But somehow I liked it. Soon after that unforgettable dinner at Karen’s, I mustered the nerve to make an announcement at home. I was sick of the never-ending white mounds on my plate every night. Mom glared at me. If we had been “Star Trek” characters, she would have beamed me to a distant galaxy for daring to complain.
Our rice-heavy diet showed how our lives straddled two cultures. We actually ate plenty of bread (ham sandwiches were a school lunchbox staple) and potatoes (scalloped, mashed or huge russet bakers). And homemade stuffing filled our holiday turkeys.
It’s just that rice showed up at the table alongside these other starches. (Yes, even the stuffing.) While many families considered rice a side dish, my family used beds of rice as foundations for entrees--whether it was a Chinese-inspired veggie medley or American dishes like beef stew or navy beans and ham hocks.
Mom also created rice dishes that were meals themselves. There was a glutinous concoction called “Stucky Fan Fan.” I don’t remember whether my childhood speech produced that nickname, or whether mom purposely dubbed it so to accommodate my vocabulary. Regardless, fan is Chinese for rice and “stucky” admirably describes how the ingredients clung to each other.
Mom melded fan (pronounced fawn , like a baby deer) with bits of Asian mushrooms, dried shrimp and diced Chinese sausage by stir-frying all of it in her Dutch oven (wok cooking was rare at home because Mom believed so much could be done with basic Revere Ware).
She also made a “light” version of the fan, which became known as Faye J. Lum’s version of chow fan . For years, it was the only way mom could coax scrambled eggs and peas into my mouth.
She found it efficient to cook a mammoth batch of either kind of fan , then stash it in the fridge as if it were leftover pizza. Like pizza, both fans could be consumed hot or cold. After I left Houston for college, mom packed aluminum foil doggie bags of fan during my visits home. It survived road trips of several hours without refrigeration.
Got Rice? Always.
Lum is a freelance journalist who splits her time between Los Angeles and San Francisco.