Saturday, July 14, 2007

Frying the Rice

A story oft repeated for family, friends and acquaintances that may or may not have heard it.

When I was set free in England, aside from mastering the fine art of boiling water, knowing how to cook the Maggie Mee precisely how I liked it (noodles al dente and the gravy thick) and being somewhat competent at cutting and peeling the garlic and onions, I did not have a shred of cooking sense. So there I found myself one inevitable evening. Alone. Hungry. The canteen closed a while ago. I think it was one of the days when the Hall kitchen closed early.
It was still early in the term and I had yet to be comfortable with any of my hall mates. I also hadn't started to hang or meet with anybody nearby either. My buddy from the 'old days' (he was with me since secondary school and he came over to stay a few times), Daniel, was too damned far away. The lucky bastard had gotten a nice room smack in the centre of the academic heart of our University. It was an old, creaky wooden building which was extensively renovated to accommodate more than it was originally envisaged. It was such a maze that in my early visits there I would wander around lost in there for up to a few minutes, at times even wondering whether it was possible to die of hunger and thirst in the building for being, unable to get out. Luckily, there were other students walking in and out that would very helpfully (and no doubt amused) show me out. Crazy Asian! So anyway, he was out of the question. I just wanted to have something nice and warm. Then eat it in with my legs snugly tucked in under the covers of my bed.
I no doubt sighed and rummaged through the box my mom had packed for me. That was gastronomic umbilical chord to home. Familiar food. Fond memories. Of home. There it was. A five pack of Chicken and Curry Maggie Mee and Indomie Goreng. Easiest to eat, both were done with just boiling the noodles to soften and then open the packets for seasoning. So damn easy, even I could do it. Digging further, there was my favourite kicap sauce, almost the entire Brahims range of tasty ready-to-eat chicken and beef. They had flavours like rendang and what not. Bloody good when you are starved of home food and stuck in a foreign land where it is not easily obtainable. But it sucks when you eat it back home. And there just tucked right at the bottom, almost going unnoticed, were a whole bunch of slim almost flat package. It was the Brahims mixture for frying rice.
I recalled that before mom and dad had gone back, they had done a little shopping for me. The bought me a bit of food to store in the fridge. Like I think a small pack of long grain rice. And I had thrown in a pack of prawns into the shopping basket too. I thought then and there that I wanted to eat fried rice. My mouth immediately responded as I could feel the side of my cheeks tighten just a little and my tongue snake out to lick my lips. That's it, I thought. I'm having fried rice. Easy like peasy.
My mom also had the foresight to buy me a little tefal stainless steeled non-stick pot which was pretty damn versatile, I found out later. So I went to the common kitchen down the hall and got out the prawns which were frozen then went back to my room to pick up a pack of the fried rice flavouring, a big wooden spatula and the rice. I put the block of prawns under the sink and poured warm water over it a little to warm it up. Doubled back to the room because I forgot the oil and saw that the block had broken into half. I cut up the pack and put one half in the fridge.
The prawns still hadn't fully frozen.
So I waited and read a bit.
I think it was about twenty minutes.
Luckily I had a book.
After I found it soft enough, I fired up the stove. The blue flames snuck out of their holes and hissed away. Still small. Warmed up the pot with oil. After it was nice and warm, I threw in some of the prawns. Pushed it around a bit and then threw in the rice. After stirring it around, I bumped up the flame and squeezed the entire sachet contents into the pot until it was satisfactorily cackling away. I stirred it around and took particular pleasure in smelling the fumes arising from the pot. Ah! Not quite, but close enough. The smell of home cooking. After pushing it around some more to ensure an even cooking, I dumped it all on a plate and left the pot to cool down.
Pleased, I padded down the entire length of the hall again because my room was on one end and the kitchenette in the other, plate in hand. Mmm mmm. Cooking one's food does give some measure of satisfaction, I thought to myself. I sat down at the table with my plate of fried rice the moment I got in. And dug in.
It was hard digging though. The prawns were alright and tasted okay. The problem was the rice was so bloody hard. It was tough to chew and refused to yield beneath my chewing. I managed to get half spoonful down my throat and thought that something was seriously wrong. Checked the time. It would be around noon or thereabouts back home. So I went down the hall past the kitchenette to the public phone in the stairwell. I made a reverse charge call to, who else, but mom. She was always pleased to hear from me and ran through her usual course of questions about how I was taking care of myself, keeping warm, staying safe, etc. before I could finally get to what I wanted to ask her.
I told her about my problem.. There was a brief silence before my mom asked me, 'Did you cook the rice before you fried it?'And I think I said something like, 'What do you mean cook the rice?' Her disbelief quickly warped into laughter. After she had recovered somewhat she told me that I had to boil the rice first before I fried it.
So that's what it was.
Why didn't I think of that?
Been much better since then.
It's best to use rice cooked and kept overnight to fry. See. See.
Super damn best favouritest: Corn beef fried rice with fried egg and Habhal kicap manis.


Noreen said...

Was this post inspired by the fried rice you had for lunch on Friday?

You IS FUNNY lah, of course kena masak the rice dulu Fahri Oliver, or do you prefer to be Fahri Bourdain?

I love kicap cap kipas Habhal too. I like the red one as it is sweeter than the green. It's a must topping for all local dish next to chilli sauce I think, Malaysians can't seem to eat without them.

Anonymous said...

FA, i heard this story from you first hand and it left me dumbfounded. i wanted to laugh harder but i was afraid u might kill me wakakakaka
nways, good to read bout it though i prefer your animated live version