Our family has embarked on virtual travels to various countries and regions. To explore these countries and their cultures, we have followed along with the festivals, cooked and eaten traditional foods, learned of traditional handicrafts with hands on exploration, along with many activities to immerse ourselves. Chronicled here are some of these activities.

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Saturday, February 1, 2014

Chinese Staple Food: Rice & Recipe for Yangzhou Fried Rice

Photo Credit: IRRI
The average Chinese person eats four bowls of rice a day, eaten morning, noon, night. Rice is such an important aspect of Chinese culture that the word for rice "fan" also means "food". 

Rice Terrace
Photo Credit: Simon  Falvo
Rice has been grown in China for more than 9000 years and continues to be China's most important crop. It is grown in the south, where fields are flooded to ensure there is enough water during the growing season and keeps weeds at a minimum. Growing rice is labor intensive: in China, plowing continues to be done with oxen, while planting and transplanting seedlings, are done by hand. 

When guests are invited to dine, they are asked to "come and eat rice"

Plowing the paddy (Source)

Planting rice (Source)
Even though China is the world's largest producer of rice, it does not produce enough to supply its large population. It imports rice from other countries, including Thailand, Vietnam, and Japan. A fully stocked pot of rice is traditionally a sign of prosperity, and it is considered bad manners to leave any amount of rice uneaten in your bowl.

Children are told they will get a pimple on their face for every grain of rice they waste

Flooded rice terrace (Source)
There are many varieties of rice, including red, purple and black rice, but the preferred variety in China is generally long grain, white rice. Rice flour, rice vinegar and rice wine are also common staples.

Instead of saying "How are you?", a typical greeting in China is "Have you had your rice today?"

Rice in autumn (Source)
Throughout the year, we tried a few ways to grow rice indoors - sprouting grains in a jar, sprouting grains in paper towel, sowing grains over soil and covered in water. We tried with wild rice, organic brown rice and glutinous red rice. All told though, we just discovered a variety of ways to sprout mold. Rice needs heat to grow, and I may have mentioned this before, but it doesn't get particularly warm in our house, even over the summer. 

Though we couldn't grow rice, we can cook with it :) Yangzhou fried rice was a hit with the girls, and as a meal that is pretty much made with leftovers, is quick and easy. It can be a dish served as part of a meal (we've had it with sweet & sour pork) or on its own. We love shrimp, so we used lots.

Yangzhou Fried Rice

Adapted from The Daily Meal
Serves 4 as a meal

  • 2 dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 1/4 cup + 1 tbsp of vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup pork tenderloin, finely diced
  • 1/4 cooked chicken, finely diced
  • 1/4 cup ham, finely diced*
  • 3/4 cup small, peeled shrimp 
  • 1/4 cup frozen peas or edemame
  • 2 tsp Shaoxing wine
  • 3/4 cup chicken stock
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 3 cups cooked, and cooled, white rice
  • 3 green onions, thinly sliced (more for garnish if you wish)
*Confession: instead of using ham, I used leftover breakfast sausages.

1. Cut the stalks off the mushrooms, and soak in hot water for 30 min. Once they have soaked, finely dice them.

2. Heat 2 tbsp oil in a large pan over med-high heat. Add the pork and shrimp and stir fry until the pork is pale. Add the ham, chicken, mushrooms and peas and stir fry for another couple of minutes until everything is hot. Add the wine and stock and bring to a boil. Add salt and pepper to taste, and transfer it all to a separate bowl.

3. Rinse and dry your pan, and bring it back to med-high heat. Pour in remaining oil, and when it is hot add the egg and swirl around the pan. When the egg is half cooked, add your rice and stir fry. 

4. When the rice is very hot and starts to make a popping sound, add the reserved meat and stock mixture. Stir well and cook for another 30 seconds. Add the green onions, give it a stir, and serve. 


Here are the other Chinese rice recipes we've tried over the year:

Ever had rice for breakfast? Try Congee, a hot rice soup/stew commonly eaten for breakfast in China

Zongzhi are tasty steamed rice dumplings, especially enjoyed during the Dragon Boat festival.

Pineapple rice is a traditional dish of the Dai


  1. This is a great post. I learned so much about rice!

    1. Thanks Phyllis - I loved learning about how many expressions have to do with rice.

  2. Rice is one of my most favourite foods. It kind of calms my brain down. I always wondered if I had it for breakfast, lunch and dinner would I sleep well at night!
    I read somewhere (Lucinda's?) that this was your last Chinese post? I'm so looking forward to your next learning adventure!

  3. Maybe what you need is a rice bedtime snack - just writing this brought rice pudding to mind, and now I am craving it. Yes, rice pudding as an evening, night time snack sounds perfect!
    I have a few more posts to finish up (I'm giving myself the rest of the week and see how much I can get done!) but this weekend we said goodbye to China. And now we're off to Africa (for which I am woefully prepared)


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