Soy Sauce ≠ Chinese Food

Vegan Fried Rice

Vegan Fried Brown Rice without Soy Sauce

I once watched a cooking show when the chef was cooking Chinese stir fry. He said something like, “Since we’re cooking Chinese food, we had better put in some soy sauce. “


This weekend I went to a big chain super market and they have a huge prepared food area with one designated Chinese stir fry section. Only one out of probably 8 selections did not use soy sauce. I quickly left that area just like I would avoid going to any Chinese buffet. Different foods coated with brown sauce or soy sauce taste the same to me, no matter whether they are sweet and sour chicken, orange chicken or General Tso’s chicken.

American Chinese food is quite different from what I had in Taiwan. For example, I have never seen fortune cookies and beef and broccoli before coming to the U.S. I have to praise my fellow Chinese who invented them by using local ingredients and customizing to the Western taste.

The root of the taste

What we eat has a lot to do with what we had when we were young. My mom’s cooking style is very simple and light. I appreciate that she uses a limited amount of spice so that we can taste the different flavors of the food. I like to try different types of food and enjoy various flavors. Layers and layers of flavors from many different spices may excite my taste buds for one meal, but I always go back to my light daily cooking. It might be too bland for many, but fresh ingredients can burst unbelievable flavors if one pays attention.

My mom usually puts only a little oil and salt into a dish, sometime with white pepper. She marinades meat in soy sauce, but seldom uses soy sauce in stir fry. That’s my basic cooking too. In addition, we don’t use MSG which many Chinese and Asian restaurants like to use.

MSG quickly gives food a tastier flavor with a bit of sweetness, so a dish which traditionally required hours of cooking now can be done in a few minutes. However, MSG is made of chemicals and makes me thirsty after the meal. I once got a serious headache while having a noodle soup in a Chinese restaurant and I was extremely thirsty for the rest of the day. It was the worst MSG experience I’ve ever had and I never stepped into that restaurant again. Since then I’ve always requested not to have MSG in my food when I go to an Asian restaurant (it’s sad that many Vietnamese pho restaurants use MSG now).

My style of fried rice

To better explain my Chinese cooking style, let me use a popular dish–fried rice as an example. The traditional Chinese fried rice is simple. The main ingredients are rice, one scallion (green onion), one or two eggs, salt and white pepper. Some people like to make the scrambled eggs before they pan fry the rice; some like to mix the beaten eggs into the fired rice in the end. It doesn’t matter to me. What matters is the rice.

  • The first essence of fried rice is that every single kernel of rice is separated from each other, no blocks of rice stuck together. The trick is to use refrigerated rice which is easier to break apart. I found brown rice is much easier to work with than white rice. Brown rice is healthier too.
  • The second essence is that the dish should not be oily at all which means no puddles of oil sitting in the bottom of the plate after it’s finished.
  • The third essence is white pepper to your taste. White pepper has different taste than black pepper and does give a nice flavor to the fried rice.

Firstly slightly pan fried the white part of the scallion to release its flavor (chopped onion or cubed potatoes could replace the scallion), and then add in the rice to continue stirring it. In the end before turning off the heat, put in the green part of the scallion to add the fresh color and taste (tip: adding smashed garlic into dishes like the General Tso’s chicken before turning off the heat creates tremendous aroma).

During the whole process, I always use medium heat so that no scallion or rice would burn. A wok is not necessary.

Let your imagination play

Fried rice may be a timely life saver if I have sudden guests and leftover rice, of course. I found celery can be an excellent replacement for scallion. Just slice it and mix it into fried rice and then pour over beaten eggs. Stir them together until the eggs are cooked. I like the combined taste of eggs and celery.

Adding fruits into fried rice is an interesting twist. Chopped ham and pineapple dance in fried rice as well as in Hawaiian pizza. Shrimp like pineapple too. Fresh pineapple, litchi and longan go well with Taiwanese style Chinese sausages, if you can find one without MSG added. I would pan fried the sausages at low heat and turn them until they are golden brown. Take them out, slice them when they are cooler and then set aside. Pan fry the rice in the oil from frying the sausages and add in veggies and fruit and season to the taste. Add the sliced sausages back into the rice and mix them well.

I like veggies in fried rice. Carrots, corns, string beans, zucchini, red/yellow/orange/green peppers, asparagus, mushrooms and peas are all great. Frozen mixed veggies are fine and convenient. Vegan fried rice is very delicious too.

Our tongue is the best chef. Listen to it and let it play.

Bon Appétit!

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