STEP ONE: Get the rice.
There are multiple ways you can do this. You can go a Chinese restaurant and take home the free rice they give you. You can cook your own rice in a pot (one part rice, two parts water). You can go to a dining hall and scoop some rice out of the rice cooker.
(Remember the first time you had rice in college, a month into freshman year. You were at Great Wall on Whitney, and the waitress brought you a bowl of rice that cost extra money, which would’ve made you incensed if you hadn’t been so happy. You can’t describe the feeling accurately — somewhere between joy and relief. You wanted to cry, but you don’t tell anyone that.)
STEP TWO: Leave the rice alone.
Wait a day. Eat something else. This is the secret in order to make crispy, dry fried rice.
(You are in the kitchen, and your mother smiles at you. She is chopping vegetables, and you are home for the summer — hovering. That’s how I’ve always done it, she says. That’s how all Chinese restaurants do it, she says. You are taller than your mother, now, and you want to stay next to her for a little longer.)
STEP THREE: Prepare the ingredients.
Heat the rice in the microwave so it’s firm, not stiff, to the touch. Take three eggs and beat them with a utensil of choice. Gather the oil, the salt, the pepper. This is the bare bones, you can add whatever else you want. Carrots and peas. That can of Spam that you say you want to use but never have.
(There’s a word for this, this ordering. “Mise en place?” It’s French and sounds sophisticated. Your grandfather did the exact same thing in his old apartment, in his small kitchen that could only fit two people. The windows of all the kitchens in the building opened into the same space, so you could smell what everyone else was cooking. That apartment’s been sold now, but you remember this detail.)
STEP FOUR: Bring out the pan.
Pour oil into a pan and wait for it to get hot. You can tell when it’s ready if you put your hand a few inches above the oil. You can feel the push of heat. Add the eggs, but don’t scramble them yet: wait for one side to brown and then flip it over like an omelet. When that side is cooked, break the eggs apart and fold in the rice and other ingredients. Stir fry until the rice is loose, generously sprinkle in salt and pepper. A spatula is nice, but you can also use chopsticks.
(The first time you make fried rice is at an apartment in San Francisco. The pan is very heavy, and the stove heats up too quickly, and there’s no regular salt on hand so you’re using Cajun seasoning salt instead. The rice is quickly turning orange, and you don’t know why you’re doing this. Or you do, because you’re thinking about your family, and the future, and all those recipes your grandfather knows, and your mother knows, and how you don’t know them yet. You miss home, and you won’t always be home. It’s that simple, maybe.)
STEP FIVE: Serve.
Slide the fried rice out onto a plate. Now would be a good time to take a picture. Now would be a good time to call your parents.
(You want to call your parents, because this is the first time you have made a family recipe. You want to call your parents, because you miss them and can’t find the right words. You took the first bite of that fried rice, and it reminded you of them. You are 21-years-old, and this could be called nostalgia or sentimentality or growing up. It was a good meal, regardless.)
Alice Zhao | email@example.com