From my blog, Total Noms. http://totalnoms.com

Uncle Roger, Aunty Hersha, and a Fried Rice Compromise

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Following the BBC’s questionable interpretation of Egg Fried Rice, Internet users and influencers worldwide have furiously critiqued the presenter, Hersha Patel. Standing out among the crowd of critics is comedian Nigel Ng (also known as his character ‘Uncle Roger’), who simply was not having it: his rant about the BBC fried rice attracted over 9.7 million views. 

Recently, in a thrilling turn of events, Uncle Roger and Aunty Hersha came together to prepare fried rice (‘Uncle Roger Meet BBC Fried Rice Lady’), filming yet another viral video.  

Before you watch this iconic collaboration, you may need some context about the recipe. According to Hersha in a recent interview, the recipe is the BBC’s and not her own: she states that she would ‘personally not cook rice in that way’. As someone who grew up eating fried rice, I cringed several times throughout the video. Since there is a great deal to unpack here, I’ve created an itemised list of the problems viewers had with the BBC’s recipe. 

  1. While following the recipe, Hersha didn’t wash her rice before cooking it: she drained her rice in a colander after cooking and rinsed it with tap water, resulting in wet and sticky rice. Fried rice should not be wet unless you are cooking Fujian/Hokkien fried rice
  2. The recipe didn’t use day-old rice. The reason why you should use day-old rice for fried rice is similar to the logic of French toast – dryer rice absorbs the egg better. 
  3. The eggs were not incorporated into the rice, instead they were cooked separately, so the resulting fried rice was a pathetic shade of beige. 

Many Asian viewers were understandably disgusted by the BBC’s recipe: I myself was confused how such a simple dish could go so wrong.  J Lou, a Hong Kong YouTuber known for being a rice enthusiast, was so appalled by the BBC’s recipe that she made not one, but two reaction videos (‘Rice Queen Reacts to HORRIBLE fried rice video’, ‘Asian Mom Screams At BBC’s Fried Rice Video‘). 

The general consensus seemed to be unanimous: if you want to learn how to cook fried rice, the BBC is the wrong place to go. However, some Twitter users have pointed out that washing rice after cooking is a method used in South Asian cooking. A user, Divya (@mintminnim) tweeted: ‘I’m south Asian and we cook rice like that. How you gonna hold monopoly over how you cook rice and say it’s not the Asian way as always excluding us.’ While Dibya’s comments are valid, the BBC advertised this recipe as Chinese-inspired. As egg fried rice is Chinese in origin, the rice would be washed before cooking instead of after. 

Moreover, Divya’s point about the ‘monopoly’ over rice raises a debate about culinary tradition and inclusivity in the food industry. Rice is a staple food in many countries around the world, and every culture has different methods of making rice. However, respecting culinary tradition is instrumental to creating authentic international cuisine.

However, respecting culinary tradition is instrumental to creating authentic international cuisine.

It is understandable why people are frustrated by the whitewashing or misinterpretation of traditional cuisine in Western media by large-scale publications. The list of offenders, as detailed by this Vice article, includes Bon Appétit and the New York Times. When the BBC doesn’t properly research the recipes they teach, no wonder people are outraged. More importantly, since this recipe is the BBC’s and Hersha’s role was to present it, she is bearing the brunt of misdirected criticism that would be better directed at the BBC. 

When meeting Hersha, Uncle Roger quips, ‘Different culture make rice differently. Just some culture is wrong.’ However, as Divya has rightfully argued, no culture has a ‘monopoly’ on a certain food. In the 21st century, where cross-cultural exchange and fusion cuisine is increasingly common, people can reinterpret traditional cuisines in their own way. That said, a recipe shouldn’t claim to be something it is not. While people should be allowed to cook their rice as they please, I am of the opinion that the BBC’s recipe is not appropriate for this dish. 

In this new video, Hersha uses day old rice in her new recipe, and Uncle Roger rates it a 6/10. Though some of it is clearly staged, the dynamic between Hersha and Uncle Roger is hilarious and worth watching. 

Uncle Roger and Aunty Hersha were able to reach a fried rice compromise. Instead of engaging in culture wars behind a screen, they got out the wok and created a new and improved fried rice. Unlike the BBC’s concoction, the future of fried rice is golden brown and delicious. 

Photograph: Mallory Dash via Flickr and Creative Commons

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