Skirmish of the Sides (#322)

I did not grow up gourmet.

I grew up excited about McDonald’s. This might have been because my parents’ ideas of cooking meant throwing protein and potatoes in the oven for an hour or two. Sometimes we had rice as a side, but mostly it was baked potatoes. With margarine. (I didn’t discover butter until I was in high school. Whereupon I ranted to my parents, “Why have you been keeping this deliciousness from us and giving us MARGARINE?!”)

My husband Andy is Chinese-American. In his family, rice isn’t a side, it’s necessity. The angriest I’ve ever seen Andy’s Engineering Cousin was when her Quite White husband went on the Atkin’s diet. “It’s ridiculous!” she ranted at Andy on Thanksgiving. “It’s all meat and fat! Not a grain of rice ever! How can you have dinner or holidays without rice?!”

Since I’d never seen rice served at Thanksgiving or Christmas or Easter or 4th of July until I met Andy’s extended family, I could easily imagine holidays without rice. There would be mashed potatoes, baked potatoes, or potato salad. Rice had never made an appearance at any Ashbough holiday EVER.

I was fine with that, because rice is boring. Like tofu, it’s great for soaking up the flavor of any sauce, and when it’s fried into crispy rice with some spicy tuna on top? Divine.

But plain rice alone?

“It’s only good for keeping your mouth from burning up after spicy food,” I informed Andy. “Why don’t we have more potatoes? They are healthier than rice, with more vitamins and antioxidants. Plus, you can make a potato into anything: hash browns, home fries, potato skins, scalloped potatoes, potato pancakes, and even French fries! Or you can just have a potato baked with cheese and sour cream.”

“Potatoes are only healthier if you eat the skin,” Andy retorted. “And all the potato dishes you listed are not healthier than plain rice.”

“But way yummier. I miss potatoes. The only time we have potatoes is when I make pot roast.”

With no small amount of side-eye, Andy said, “When you make the food, you can choose the side.”

Not long after that statement, Andy was injured and couldn’t cook for months. Which meant I had to. The only fringe benefit was potatoes. Lots of them. Potatoes went into the oven and the crockpot. (Especially after I burned the rice. In the rice cooker. Yeah, it’s a mystery.)

Our son Baby D was my ally—at first. He liked pot roast potatoes smothered in gravy. He didn’t bat an eye at the little purple potatoes in the chicken rosemary. And Baby D devoured baked potatoes loaded with bacon and cheese.

Andy’s scrumptious eggs Benedict with home fries.

Once he healed, Andy grudgingly added potatoes to the weekly shopping list. He made hash browns and home fries for weekend breakfasts. He would occasionally toss in a potato galette to go with his beef Wellington. He made potato skins for the Superbowl every year.

IT WAS A CLEVER DIVERSION.

At the same time, Andy introduced Baby D to sticky rice and musubi (rice wrapped in seaweed). Baby D would have sticky rice with dinner and then eat a bowl with sugar after dinner if he was still hungry. He’d often beg his father for a quick snack of musubi. Andy would oblige, of course.

All part of his master plan.

Only I was surprised the weekend Baby D glared at his breakfast burrito instead of eating it.

“Not hungry?” I asked.

“It has hash browns in it. Don’t want hash browns.”

“What?!” I practically screeched. “Who doesn’t like hash browns?!”

“I can make it without hash browns,” Andy quickly offered, trying not to smile. “I could even put in—”

“Don’t say it!” I interrupted. “It would be a TRAVESTY.”

“—rice,” Andy finished.

While Baby D declined the rice, opting for an egg, cheese, and bacon breakfast burrito, the hash brown incident heralded the resurgence of rice in our household. With the exception of pot roast potatoes, Baby D had to be reminded to finish any potato dish on his plate. He’d even eat his vegetables first. (Unheard of!) When we had our quarantine/ birthday/ Thanksgiving last year, he was particularly bitter about mashing potatoes.

“Why can’t we have rice?” he whined. Repeatedly.

We might have been physically alone that holiday, but Andy’s family was definitely with us in spirit.

No rice, only mashed potatoes because Baby D’s mother is so mean.

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Autumn Ashbough

WF writing about the humorous perils of life with Chinese-American significant other.

27 thoughts on “Skirmish of the Sides (#322)”

  1. I’ve always been afraid of cooking rice because I always burn it. But I recently found this semi-instant kind that you just boil for 12 minutes, drain, and eat. I’m sure Andy would be appalled but I think it tastes almost the same as the real stuff! And even faster and less cleanup than mashed/roasted potatoes (which I also very much like).

    1. Really? That seems too easy!

      Unfortunately, some of the tastiest dishes require the most time and clean up. That’s why we should all be blogging about Roadhouses and sampling their food. 🙂

      1. I know it’s insanely easy. It’s a South African brand called Tastic – I don’t know how they do it.

        Agreed on the Roadhouses. I’m about to go to another one today.

  2. I prefer potatoes to rice, but I like rice. Preferably brown rice. Maybe if you bide your time your son’s desire for potatoes will resurface, and rice will once again be secondary. Wishful thinking?

  3. I miss potatoes when I’m in China! In the Suzhou area there are maybe just a couple of dishes that include potatoes.

    How can you burn rice in a rice cooker? Is it even possible? Haha! When I was in college, my flatmate broke my deep fryer because she turned it on without oil inside.

    Now that I’m in Spain I’m eating so much bread… And I don’t even have to bake it myself, as it’s so cheap and widely available!

  4. When I was a kid, my mom would make beef soup with vegetables, and I remember my least favorite ingredient was the potatoes! (Chinese American here.) We definitely could eat white rice for all the holidays you mentioned. That said, I also like potatoes, bread, pasta… I’ve never gotten into baked potatoes, but maybe I should try! I’ve only had them a couple of times in my life. You make them sound delicious.

    1. I love potatoes in Andy’s vegetable stew–they’re tender and they soak up all the flavors.

      But potatoes really do have to be cooked all the way to be good. They don’t have a ton of flavor on their own, either. Kind of like rice and tofu.

  5. It sounds like Baby D gets the last word. I wonder if he’s change back to potatoes later. That was a tricky move to introduce sticky rice and musubi. Both can be really tasty. These days I’m not a big fan of either rice or potatoes. They have their place, though. We had a tasty potato salad on our picnic today.

  6. So much of this story reminds me of battles with my ex-wife. She was half-Filipina, half-Hispanic, so white rice was, of course, a mainstay. That first Thanksgiving we went over to her extended family’s house in San Jose and they served rice with the turkey, I thought I was living on a different planet. Stick to your guns! Defend the mighty spud!

    P.S. I also grew up eating margarine, and yeah…shame on you, mom and dad!

  7. Love this post! I have to say admit that I am team Andy on this one, and I would take rice over potatoes any day. Still, I love me some hashbrowns. When they are cooked to that crispy, golden perfection it is pure breakfast bliss.

    I used to think white rice was just a plain side dish to soak up the sauce as well… until I moved to Japan. I lived in a prefecture famous for rice, and when they served me a bowl of plain white rice I looked at it very suspiciously. But dear god, after one bite, I knew my world had changed. That Japanese Niigata rice is heavenly. It’s also mega expensive — it’s called koshi hikari (I think you can get it for $$ in the states). Tastes like heaven in a bowl.

  8. Ah, the classic debate of which carb is the better one. I actually never heard of crispy rice (apart from cereal rice crispies which aren’t technically rice) and had to Google that. I don’t dout at all Andy is great at cooking all those potato dishes you mentioned. But cooking rice is easier out of all of them. Truth be told, while I grew up eating rice every single night, it’s not a must-have for me. In fact, I much prefer noodles and that’s my staple of choice. It could be yee mee or something more healthy like soba or bean noodle. But like what Ruby said, a good bowl of white, warm fluffy rice is something in a world of its own if done right.

    1. Yes, rice is much easier. But I’d probably reach for noodles over rice, too!

      Unless it’s crispy rice. Or the Ruby Ronin’s famous Japanese rice, which I now feel compelled to find.

  9. Hah, this was very entertaining. I LOVE potatoes. when I was a kid I taught myself to fry potatoes so I could make them when I got home from school. BUT I do love rice in certain circumstances–with kimchi, for instance. Or FRIED rice. So I have a rice steamer now and love it.

      1. Right. My dad always thought my potato craving was some genetic thing from his ancestors. My grandmother did make the best German potato pancakes ever. But rice is handy, and yes, the cooker also handy!

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