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.
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, 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.
Arroz de lisa (mullet rice), the way you’d get it on a street off the Atlantic coast of Columbia in the city of Barranquilla, is served in a leaf of the tropical hewrb called bijao, with cooked cassava, a triangle of costeño cheese, and a sauce of suero atollabuey, which is a milky sour cream. If you want to sit down to eat somewhere in Barranquilla, try the arroz de lisa at Cucayo.
The literal translation of Korea's bibimbap is "mixed rice;" it comes served in a hot bowl with sautéed vegetables, chile paste, and soybean paste. The best part? When you crack a raw egg on it, the heat from the bowl cooks it to perfection. You’ll find good bibimbap anywhere in Seoul, but you’ll rarely find good bibimbap in London — unless you go to Bibimbab Café on Museum Street.
The staple of any (good) Indian wedding, biryani is a mix of basmati rice, a meat or vegetables, and some variation of the usual Indian spices, which science proves is particularly delicious. You want to go to the most famous biryani house in India, and possibly the world: Paradise Hotel in Hyderabad.
A mix of rice with black-eyed peas, chopped onion, and sliced bacon seasoned with a bit of salt, hoppin’ John is not common on the menus of restaurants north of the Mason-Dixon line. On special occasions, Tabard Inn in Washington, D.C. (and, yes, the nation's capital is below that famous demarcation) makes the rice dish in the form of a cassoulet.
Jollof rice originated in the cuisine of Senegal, but has since spread to most countries in West Africa. Its base is simple enough: rice, tomatoes, onions, salt, and hot red pepper. Any combination of meats and vegetables can be mixed into it to make a comforting meal. You won’t be disappointed with the version at Brooklyn’s Jollof Restaurant in Bed-Stuy.
Kedgeree is an Anglo-Indian dish that is almost a perfect blend of very Indian (rice and curry powder) and very British elements (haddock). Parsley, hard-boiled eggs, cream, and sultanas are usually added. Without a doubt, you’ll find the best at one of London’s finest venues for afternoon tea (among other things), The Wolseley.
Hawaii's Loco Moco is as much fun as it sounds. It begins with a bed of white rice, and is usually topped with a hamburger patty, fried egg, and gravy, but many other proteins, like chili, spam, linguiça, or mahi mahi, may also be used. A side of macaroni salad is essential. Can’t travel to Hawaii? That’s fine. You can find some in the much less tropical Chicago, at Aloha Eats.
Nasi Kuning, from Indonesia, is rice cooked with coconut milk and that most-cited superfood, turmeric. It is usually pressed into a cone and served with a highly seasoned side dish; we like teri kacang (fried anchovies and peanuts). The rice’s yellow hue symbolizes gold, and it is served at special events as a symbol of good fortune. Going to Jakarta? Eat it at Bumbu Manado.
Has there ever been a more delicious way to eat shellfish than atop paella? Olive oil-y and bursting with flavor, this Valencian dish has many variations, but the true Valencian paella has no seafood at all, just chicken, rabbit, three kinds of beans, and sometimes snails to the large pan. Eat it while gazing at the Mediterranean in one of Ernest Hemingway’s old spots in Valencia: La Pepica.
Uzbek plov, a rice pilaf with lamb or beef, carrots, cabbage, and the central Asian kick of cumin, is served on special occasions like Rosh Hashanah. You most certainly do not have to go to Uzbekistan to try it, because King David Kosher Restaurant in Queens makes a version that is as authentic as it gets.
A glutinous rice eaten in rural Vietnam, xôi ngũ sắc definitely does not get its brilliant colors from artificial food coloring. The bright hues come from magenta plant, pandan leaf, gấc fruit, and mung beans. You might have to travel into the mountains for this dish, but if you’re in Hanoi, you might as well drink some Vietnamese coffee at Kinh Do Cafe.