You get home after a long day of work; set aside a portion of rice to boil over the stovetop without giving it a second thought. You know you will be able to pair it with anything in your fridge and in most cases, it will result in a quick, comforting meal. This is a regular exercise for many.
The grain is eaten across the world, whether in the form of a creamy risotto in Italy or a warm bowl of rice porridge called congee in China. Rice is versatile and makes for a satisfying meal.
We spoke to people from different parts of the world to share what their favourite pairing with rice is and the question triggered memories of family and great meals.
You can never go wrong with Dal Chawal
A ladle full of dal (lentils) on steaming rice lightly flavoured with cumin seeds is guaranteed to make any South Asian salivate. Many would say a spoonful of that food combination topped with a chunk of mango achaar (pickles) makes for the ultimate comfort food.
We usually pair vegetable-based dishes with roti (flatbread) because they’re drier but when it comes to rice, dal is the go-to topping
Dal chawal is a basic meal of a simple lentil curry and steamed rice.
Punita Batra has a clear memory of the dal her mother used to make back home in Delhi, India. On a hot summer day, Batra said that the dish would make for a light, delicious meal. “I remember the garlicky taste of the slow-cooked dal my mum would make with a side of green chutney and pickles,” the Dubai-based expat said.
Batra is a vegetarian and dal chaawal was a regular meal at her home. “We usually pair vegetable-based dishes with roti (flatbread) because they’re drier but when it comes to rice, dal is the go-to topping,” the 35-year-old homemaker said.
Moved to the UAE recently, the mother-of-one makes the dish for her family, which reminds them of home.
Hotdog on fried rice
For Brian Angelo from the Philippines, sliced hotdogs over plain steamed or fried rice, makes for the perfect dish any time of the day.
The 25-year-old has been having the dish for as long as he can remember. Back home, when he was a child, his mother used to make it for breakfast before he would head to school.
“I would wake up at 4am in the morning and a steaming plate of sliced hotdogs and rice would be waiting for me on the dining table,” he said.
Often, Angelo’s mother also packed his lunchbox with a serving of rice and fried hotdogs. “I still remember how my lunchbox was stained because of how often I would eat this dish,” he said.
Now, Angelo, the expat who works as a customer service representative in Dubai Airports, makes the dish for himself at home. “I work odd hours sometimes because I work at the airport and even when I am back home from a night shift, I can quickly make this dish and it fully satisfies me,” he said.
Angelo said that he had a pack of jumbo hotdogs waiting in his refrigerator to treat himself later in the day, as he spoke to Gulf News.
The dish is quite simple to make. As per Angelo’s version, he gets a plate of freshly boiled rice and fries hotdogs, and adds them to the plate. Sometimes he tops the dish with a dollop of ketchup.
“For Asians and especially Filipinos, rice is a big part of our daily diet. I could eat rice anytime of the day especially if it’s topped with hotdogs,” he said.
Fragrant stingray curry from Kerala
A Sunday afternoon meal featuring freshly caught stingray and rice was a must at Sreechithra Sreenivas’s home in the South Indian state of Kerala.
My father would go to the fish market every Sunday as that was the day he was off from work and we would patiently wait for our mother to make the curry
When it comes to the best combination with rice, the 36-year-old’s first thought is fish curry, particularly stringray curry or Thirandi curry.
“My father would go to the fish market every Sunday as that was the day he was off from work and we would patiently wait for our mother to make the curry,” she said.
A coconut milk base and fish cooked with spices was one of her mother’s specialty. “The sweet coconut milk would not let the spices overpower the dish and I like that because I’m used to eating milder food,” she said.
Hailing from Kannur city in Kerala, Sreenivas remembers enjoying the dish with her parents and siblings. Now, she has been living with her husband in Dubai for the last 14 years and makes the dish for him using her mother’s recipe, which she shared….
Cooking time: 30 minutes
500 gms stingray fish
1 pod of tamarind
500 gms grated coconut
2 to 3 green chilies
1 tsp ginger paste
3 to 4 curry leaves
1.5 tsp cumin seeds
2 red chilies
1 tsp turmeric powder
2 tbsp chili powder
Salt to taste
Cut the fish into small square pieces, then rub the fish well with turmeric powder and rock salt to clean it. Wash it well, around four to five times then add turmeric powder, chili powder and salt and marinate it for an hour.
Peel and wash the tamarind and soak it in water for few minutes.
Add some water, grated coconut, a pinch turmeric powder and red chilies, and grind well till a thick paste is formed. Then add cumin seeds in the end and grind once again.
Place an earthen pot on the stove and add chopped chilies, tamarind paste, the coconut paste and water. Bring the gravy to a boil.
Then add the marinated fish and simmer till the fish is completely cooked. Add the curry leaves in the end and serve.
Sweet and salty beef Bulgogi
Korean expat based in Dubai, Jay Yoon calls himself a “big meat eater” and to him, salty, sweet bulgogi beef goes best with rice.
My mother was working and she was quite busy, so she made this dish for me because it was easy to make and I loved it
A specialty from South Korea, the name of the dish literally translates to "fire meat" as it is grilled. It is made with thinly sliced beef strips soaked in a marinade with soy sauce, gochujang (Korean red pepper paste) and other flavourings.
“My mother was working and she was quite busy, so she made this dish for me because it was easy to make and I loved it,” the 42-year-old businessman said.
The dish is a favourite amongst meat lovers and is usually had with rice and topped with spring onions.
Talking about when he most prominently remembers having the dish, he said: “It [beef Bulgogi] was usually eaten during weekdays because it was a simple dish and heavier dishes were reserved for the weekend. It’s my favourite.
“Now I regularly have it with my family and my three kids, we all love it.”
Nasi Lemak – ‘perfect combination’
Nasi Lemak is arguably the most famous Malaysian dish. Ikhlas Ehsan, a 13-year-old student living in Dubai calls it “the perfect combination of flavours”.
The dish typically consists of fragrant rice cooked in coconut milk and pandan leaves, served with a side of sambal (a spicy paste), eggs and anchovies or chicken.
Ehsan remembers eating the dish with his family in Malaysia. “We go back [to Malaysia] every year and my grandmother makes this dish. I remember eating it with my cousins, aunts and uncles,” he said.
Talking about why he thinks it’s “the ultimate rice dish”, he said: “The coconut rice, is very soft and fluffy and the sambal adds a spicy kick and the juicy chicken completes it. Adding a fried egg on top of anything makes it better and in this dish, I like breaking the yolk onto the rice and mixing it.”
Ehsan said that he usually eats the dish in the UAE as well, remembering fond memories of home. His mother sources some of the ingredients, like special sauces, used to make the dish from Malaysia.
“It’s my go-to dish at home as well as at restaurants. It’s always a safe option wherever I go,” he said.