Sometimes all I want is simple fried rice. Cold, (preferably) day-old rice hitting a hot wok results in grains that are soft and fluffy, not to mention a great vehicle for other flavors. Fortunately for me, Seattle's International District has a host of Chinese restaurants that fire up fried rice. Two of the most-touted are virtually back-to-back, so I decided to visit both to compare their offerings.
At Green Village, the House Special Fried Rice ($7.25) is the first item on the menu. Place your order with perpetually happy proprietress Wendy Lu, and moments later, a cup of hot and sour soup with a sharp vinegar bite arrives at the table. Next up is the fried rice, studded with pink shrimp and shredded pork, with enough scrambled egg to gently bind each bite. The green onions are visible first, but a bite reveals a deeper flavor from bits of white onion, too.
The rice is perfectly seasoned (with only salt, pepper, and soy sauce), so I pushed the condiment tray away. Lu will inevitably ask how you liked your food. If you tell her you love it and ask for the secret, she'll smile and say, "You can't make it at home because you need a big burner with enough BTUs to produce high heat. But come back anytime!"
A short walk around the block offers an interesting contrast in fried rice experiences. Compared to the relative intimacy and family-friendly feel of Green Village, Hong Kong Bistro is in a cavernous space with decidedly impersonal service. There's a massive menu with a bigger selection of fried rice options, including Lover's Fried Rice (apparently two halves, with white cream sauce "snuggled" against a red tomato sauce), and a House Fried Rice with shrimp, pork, and chicken.
What I wanted was the Salted Pork & Chinese Sausage with XO Sauce Fried Rice ($8.95). There's no soup on the side, but you do get a slightly bigger portion of rice, with a good amount of pork. The Chinese sausage is predictably sweet, which plays well off of the tiny, gelatinous cubes of salted pork, though there's less egg than I would have liked. There's a bit of green onion, but instead of regular onion mixed in, I found a surprising amount of thin-sliced Chinese broccoli stems, which don't add much flavor. The real problem, though, is the seasoning —or lack thereof. The solution? Take the rice home, then stir-fry it again with a few glugs of soy sauce. It's more work, but you'll end up with a pleasantly porky finished product.
About the author: Jay Friedman is a Seattle-based freelance food writer who happens to travel extensively as a sex educator. An avid fan of noodles (some call him "The Mein Man"), he sees sensuality in all foods, and blogs about it at his Gastrolust website. You can follow him on Twitter @jayfriedman.
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