The consumption of white rice may have been targeted as one of the top concerns in the war on diabetes, but the grain is still very much a staple in the Asian diet.
Even as trendy grains such as quinoa, couscous, millet and teff make their way into restaurants here, rice still gets attention with interesting cooking methods and Instagram-worthy presentations.
Some Chinese restaurants offer pao fan, where rice is fried or baked till crisp and then topped with hot soup or gravy. The rice makes a festive, popping sound.
At Cantonese restaurant Hua Ting at Orchard Hotel Singapore, masterchef Chung Lap Fai sells more than 150 servings a week of his dong xing garoupa with crispy rice and superior stock.
The dish is inspired by a popular dish, “Crossing the Bridge Noodles” (guo qiao mi xian), in China’s Yunnan province. Hot chicken broth is added to a bowl of rice noodles and topped with ingredients including chicken, thinly-sliced pork, tofu skin and vegetables. The chef uses rice and garoupa instead.
Other more modern methods of using rice include Restaurant Ibid’s take on porridge, where white radish trimmings are boiled till soft and cooked in a Thermomix with rice, soya milk and finished with butter and salt.
And for a more fun lunch option, Blue Lotus Chinese Grill House outlets at Tanjong Pagar Centre and Novotel Singapore on Stevens features a hot stone pork lard truffle-flavoured egg fried rice, where diners mix all the ingredients in a red-hot stone bowl.
Ms Bibi Chia, principal dietitian at Raffles Diabetes and Endocrine Centre, however, cautions that eating too much white rice might lead to excessive carbohydrate intake and an increased risk of obesity and diabetes.
Brown or red rice is healthier. To make the switch easier, she suggests starting with 20 per cent of wholegrain rice, adding that it has shown to reduce the risk of diabetes by 18 per cent.
Flavoured rice, she says, might increase the sodium and fat content of the dish.
She says: “Pao fan has added fat from cooking oil and sodium from the soup. However, like porridge, the calorie count might be lower due to water in the dish.
“To make pao fan healthier, use healthy oil, try a mix of brown rice, use less salt and increase the portion of vegetables.”
The Health Promotion Board (HPB) is also working with food and beverage companies, manufacturers and hawker centres to push the consumption of wholegrains.
It endorsed fast-food chain McDonald’s new red rice porridge, a permanent breakfast item introduced last month, with the Healthier Choice Symbol for being higher in wholegrains and lower in calories. Created by Ms Anna Lim, founder of The Soup Spoon chain, it includes 100 per cent red rice, along with ingredients such as corn, beancurd and goji berries.
An HPB spokesman says: “Contrary to the perception that healthier food tends to be bland and boring, food establishments have successfully reformulated recipes that are healthier and still as tasty.
“HPB continues to focus on increasing the pervasiveness of unrefined carbohydrates such as wholegrain staples, while raising the awareness around the health risks associated with a diet high in refined carbohydrates.”
What: Executive chef Lee Boon Seng features rice in three dishes.
There is the mui-fan inspired local skate with pearl rice risotto, dried sole coriander broth, and salmon roe ($25++, available for lunch, 11.30am to 2pm on weekdays, and dinner, 5.30 to 10pm, Mondays to Saturdays).
The risotto is made with Kokuho Japanese rice cooked with house-made fish stock, grated young ginger and cream.
The beef shortrib with Java long pepper sauce ($40++, available for dinner only) features aerated porridge topped with puffed risotto rice.
Black rice also features in a dessert – frozen salted chocolate peanut with jivara chocolate cake, dulcey peanut ganache, honeycomb and black rice ($16++, available for lunch and dinner).
The black glutinous rice is cooked in water, salt and sugar before 70 per cent Valrhona chocolate and Greek yogurt are folded in.
Where: 01-26/27 Marina One The Heart, 5 Straits View, open: 7.30am to 11pm (weekdays), 5.30 to 11pm (Saturdays), closed on Sundays
Info: Call 6284-2637 or go to thespot.sg
What: Chef-owner Woo Wai Leong – winner of MasterChef Asia’s inaugural season in 2015 – puts his twist on the classic century egg porridge with chye poh.
He makes his own chye poh, and deep-fries bamboo shoots which are coated in century egg yolk that has been powderised.
For the porridge, white radish trimmings are boiled till soft and cooked in a Thermomix with rice, soya milk and finished with butter and salt.
Another favourite rice dish of his is lotus rice.
His version uses glutinous rice and short grain rice steamed in lotus leaves. Additional ingredients include foie gras, preserved liver sausage and dried shiitake mushrooms.
The dishes are available as part of the dinner set menus priced at $78 (four-course), $88 (six-course) and $118 (eight-course).
Where: 18 North Canal Road, open: 6.30 to 10.30pm (Mondays to Saturdays), closed on Sundays
Info: Call 9151-8698 or go to www.facebook.com/restaurantibid
HUA TING RESTAURANT
What: A popular dish on the menu since Hua Ting’s relaunch is Dong Xing garoupa with crispy rice and superior stock ($28).
Steamed rice topped with raw garoupa slices is first presented in a hot stone bowl. Hot stock is poured over to cook the fish, followed by puffed rice, fried sole and Chinese parsley to add flavour and texture.
Where: Orchard Hotel, 442 Orchard Road, Level 2, open: 11.30am to 2.30pm, 6 to 10.30pm daily
Info: Call 6739-6666 or e-mail email@example.com
What: There have been long queues for the renowned congee from Mui Kee. The porridge takes five hours to prepare. Raw rice grains are first mixed with mashed century eggs, which help to break down the grains.
Then pork bones and fish stock are added and the mixture is stirred every five to 10 minutes, for five hours. This results in a fragrant and creamy congee base.
Upon order, each bowl of congee is prepared a la minute in a copper pot. Highlights include the parrot fish belly congee ($11.80) and decadent Alaskan crab leg congee ($22).
Where: 01-12 Shaw Centre, 1 Scotts Road, open: 11.30am to 3pm, 6 to 9.30pm, Tuesdays to Sundays, closed on Mondays
Info: Call 6737-2422 or go to www.facebook.com/muikeesg
SI CHUAN DOU HUA
What: Savour two variations of an authentic Sichuan dish at Si Chuan Dou Hua at Parkroyal on Beach Road – crispy rice bubble with sliced pork ($20, $30 or $40) and crispy rice bubble with seafood ($26, $39 or $52).
To make the crispy rice bubble, the rice is first cooked, then baked at 100 deg C for about three hours.
Finally, it is left to dry for two days. The crispy rice bubble is placed in a bowl to serve and a hot gravy with the ingredients is poured over, creating a sizzling effect.
Where: Parkroyal on Beach Road, 7500 Beach Road, open: 11.30am to 2.30pm, 6.30 to 10.30pm daily
Info: Call 6505-5722 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
BLUE LOTUS CHINESE GRILL HOUSE
What: A signature dish at the Blue Lotus Chinese Grill House outlets is Hot Stone Pork Lard Truffle Flavoured Egg Fried Rice ($20).
The ingredients – lard, truffle oil, Chinese sausage, baby asparagus, fried rice, coriander, crispy pork lard, spring onions, shallots and soya sauce – come separately plated.
It makes for a fun Do-It-Yourself one bowl wonder as you mix everything together in a hot stone bowl, which gives the rice a nice char.
Where: Outlets at 01-13 Tanjong Pagar Centre, 5 Wallich Street; and 01-03 Novotel Singapore on Stevens, 30 Stevens Road, open: Tanjong Pagar Centre: 11.30am to 10.30pm (Mondays to Saturdays, closed on Sundays), Novotel Singapore on Stevens: 11.30am to 10pm (Wednesdays to Mondays, closed on Tuesdays)
Info: Call 6996-0880 (Tanjong Pagar Centre) or 6838-0880 (Novotel Singapore on Stevens)
What: Rice gets a simple but tasty treatment at Circa 1912, which serves old-school dishes.
The menu offers a steamed rice with prawns, greens and duck fat ($8 a person, dinner only). The rice is steamed with duck fat till it is about 80 per cent cooked, then topped with raw prawns to continue steaming for another 10 minutes.
By then, the juices from the prawn will have been absorbed into the rice, which is tossed in crisp minced garlic, spring onions, soy sauce and sesame oil.
For lunch, get a bowl of plain chicken essence congee ($3), which uses newly harvested rice, “old” rice and glutinous rice to give different textures.
The grains are boiled over high heat with chicken stock and bones to add flavour.
Where: 03-07/11 Shaw Centre, 1 Scotts Road, open: 11.30am to 2.30pm, 5.30 to 10pm daily
Info: Call 9242-9046
What: A new dish at Cantonese restaurant Yan is its fried brown rice with diced vegetables and pine nuts ($22, $33 or $44, above).
As a healthier option, a mix of brown rice and white rice is used, along with corn kernels, diced mushrooms, pickled mustard, egg and pine nuts. The rice is served in a hot claypot which causes a crispy layer to form at the bottom.
Stir the rice before serving to mix in the crispy bits.
Where: 05-02 National Gallery Singapore, 1 St Andrew’s Road, open: 11.30am to 2.30pm, 6 to 10.30pm daily
Info: Call 6384-5585 or e-mail email@example.com
What: While there are duck dishes aplenty at the new Forbidden Duck by celebrity chef Alvin Leung, the seafood rice in aromatic duck soup ($32) is probably the most comforting.
The piping hot soup comes with fresh scallops, prawns and duck meat. Crispy puffed rice is added to the soup for some crunch.
Where: 02-02 Marina Bay Link Mall, 8A Marina Boulevard, open: 11am to 3pm, 6 to 10pm (weekdays only and today); open daily from May 19
Info: Call 6509-8767 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
This story was originally published in The Straits Times.