Around the World in 14 Rice Dishes

Colorful interpretations of one of the world’s most versatile foods

All over the world, cultures use their local ingredients to make satisfying meals out of this absorbent grain. (Photo Modified: Flickr/Thomas Strosse)

How do we even begin to talk about the wonderful staple that is rice? All over the world, cultures use their local ingredients to make satisfying meals out of this absorbent grain. Rice shines in casual comfort food you can cook up in fewer than 30 minutes, and in food for special occasions like weddings and religious holidays. You’ll see all the different notes it can hit in the following 14 rice dishes from around the world.

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If you think you know most of the world’s best rice dishes — paella, risotto, fried rice, and so on — but we'll bet you don't. The global varieties of dishes made with this grain are so much more. We've included those and other familiar classics, of course, because how could we not — but we have also chosen rice dishes that most people, no matter how gastronomically knowledgeable, are probably not aware of. Ever heard of xôi ngũ sắc, for instance? Didn’t think so.

Since rice is an extremely broad category, we decided to narrow it down by keeping this list savory, though if you have a sweet tooth, you’re welcome to check out our extensive list of rice pudding recipes. We also decided to leave out rice that doesn’t look like separate grains of rice, so you won’t find any rice cakes, rice soups, or rice casseroles here. You’ll hardly find a rice dish on this list that isn’t popping with colors from vegetables and seasonings.

I found these rice dishes by falling down a Wikipedia rabbit hole. Nasi lemak led me to nasi kunig, which led me to American fried rice, which is not American at all. I looked for rice dishes from every continent, and, for the most part, found them. Since I did not include any rice dishes from Australia on this list, I’ll say it now: try Australian rice salad. It’s just like other rice salads, but Australian. To include every rice dish in the world, we’d have to be here for a few hours, so I had to cut corners. Sorry, Australia. 

Without further ado, let’s travel around the world by way of rice.

American Fried Rice (Thailand)

American Fried Rice (Thailand)

This fried rice is certainly as American as it gets. It’s served with ketchup; a protein like fried chicken, bacon, or hot dogs; croutons; and sometimes, for a Hawaiian twist, pineapple. Silom Village Restaurant in Bangkok will make it for you just as the GIs stationed in Thailand liked it — it was conceived during the Vietnam War.

Arroz con Gandules

Arroz con Gandules

Arroz con gandules, made with pigeon peas, roast pork, and sofrito sauce, is the national dish of Puerto Rico. It’s best to get yourself invited to a Puerto Rican home so you can try this dish homemade, but if that fails, go to La Pradera Restaurant in San Juan.

This article was originally published March 17, 2015.