by Roy Choi
Roy Choi. You know who he is. He’s the dude who started the food truck revolution with his Korean BBQ taco truck, Kogi. He’s the guy who helped bring the movie “Chef” to life. He’s brilliant, and he’s just put his memoir out, and it’s something you need to be reading.
I picked up a copy at Kitchen Arts & Letters in New York, about half way through our recent trip, and dug straight in. If you’re expecting to read about Choi’s meteoric rise to the top of the food truck game, you’re out of luck; this book is about what happened way before that. It’s about Choi’s sometimes unconventional childhood and early years, his battle between being the good Asian kid he was expected to be and the kid who got up to no good. It’s a brutally honest account of years of alcohol and drug abuse, of gambling problems, of running in different gangs, of being lost, of soul searching, and finally finding his calling and his way. Maybe we haven’t all walked that same scary, dangerous path, but it’s a story I’m sure most of us can relate to, that being lost and doing all the wrong things to try to find your way. I’ll be the first to put my hand up and be the first to say I could sure as hell relate, particularly with the cultural expectation (Italian, not Asian – similar in a lot of ways, though).
Each chapter of the book was another chapter of his life, each chapter ending with a bunch of recipes pertinent to that part of life, recipes from the family collection like his mother’s kimchi, to “student food” like melted cheese instant ramen, to some of the stuff he’s a bit better known for today, like his tacos.
One of the recipes that caught my attention, and I can’t tell you why, was the ketchup fried rice. It just sounded so damn good and unpretentious and a bit of fun! As usual, I can’t follow a recipe to the letter, because I’m a stubborn Italian who hates measuring ingredients and like to add my own twist and don’t always plan ahead so I rarely have all the ingredients called for (like kimchi), so I took the rice I had left over from red beans & rice night, the recipe’s basics and screwed around with it a bit, added some extra veggies because then it’s healthy so I can justify eating more of it, and mince pork because this is carnivores kinda house, that sort of thing. Here’s what I came up with…
Makes 6 serves (aka dinner and left overs for a few days)
– vegetable oil
– 600g pork mince
– 3 spring onions, finely diced
– 1 clove garlic, minced
– 2 carrots, finely diced
– 3 sticks celery, finely diced
– 2 red capsicums, finely diced
– 1 zucchini, finely diced
– 2-3 cups rice, preferably day old left over rice
– 2 tbsp soy sauce (I like the dark stuff)
– 6 tbsp ketchup (I really love this stuff)
1. Heat a large wok over high heat, add a little vegetable oil and cook up the pork mince. Transfer to a large bowl and set aside.
2. Add a little more oil to the wok, around 2 tbsp, and add the spring onion, garlic and all the veggies. If you want to use kimchi/have it in the house, here’s where you’d throw in a tablespoon or so. Once the veggies start to get a little colour, throw them into that same bowl as the pork mince and set aside again.
3. Once again, add a bit more oil to the wok and throw in the rice and stir fry until it starts to get a little crispy. Then you can add the veggies and pork back into the wok (there’ll be a bit of liquid at the bottom of that bowl from the resting pork mince, so it’s best to spoon it into the rice so you can get rid of the water and not accidentally throw that in, too).
4. Add the soy and ketchup and stir it up until it’s all combined and the colour is even, then serve it up into shallow bowls.
5. Fry up and egg to throw on top (the egg yolk and ketchup to magical things together as any self-respecting Aussie should know from extensive breaky sandwich experience), and if you should so wish, top it all with some thinly sliced spring onion tops and toasted sesame seeds.
I’ve never been that big a fan of fried rice – like, it’s cool if it’s there, but I wouldn’t go out of my way for it. No shit, this is one of the best rice dishes I’ve ever had. He may tout it as trashy-ass, f@$%#d up shit, but it is damn tasty. It’s easy, cheap, simple enough for a weeknight dinner, it’s not all “confit this” and “reduction that”. It’s just good food. Make it. You’re gonna love it.