When you picture rice, do you picture plain, white rice? Many people aren’t aware that there is literally a whole world filled with different types of rice and rice dishes. Since rice is so easily obtainable and transported, countries around the world use it as a base for their meals, using their national spices and culinary flares to make it their own. Here is a breakdown of some of the best and most popular rice dishes around the world.
1. Afghanistan: Afghan Rice (Kabuli Pulao)
Rice dishes are a ginormous part of Afghan culture, and therefore, they are the largest parts of most meals. Wealthier families will often eat one rice dish per day and special events such as weddings will often feature several rice dishes. Kabuli Pulao is the most popular dish, a white rice cooked with meat and stock, topped with fried raisins, slivered carrots, and pistachios. So much flavor. So much deliciousness.
2. Belgium: Belgian Rice Pie (Rijsttaart)
There is more to Belgian cuisine than waffles and chocolate. In this country, rice is also taken to a whole other level in Belgium. Rijsttaart is a creamy baked rice pudding in a soft pie crust. Have a slice of this baby with a cup of coffee for breakfast or dessert and you are in for a treat.
3. Canada: Wild Rice
You know when your rice has black pieces in it? Don’t worry, no one snuck some kind of mystery ingredient into the side dish. It’s just wild rice. The rice comes from a plant called Zizania and it grows in shallow waters in small lakes or slow-flowing streams. Although wild rice is a common base or side dish all across the world, it’s most popular in Canada. In fact, it’s often known as Canadian Rice. If you can get over the whole “Canada” thing, then you should definitely try out this wild rice and veggie-stuffed pepper recipe.
4. The Caribbean: Rice and Peas
Rice and peas is one of the most common side dishes all across the Caribbean. The dish is composed of rice (often cooked with coconut milk) and any available legume. Rice and peas are most often eaten for Sunday lunch along with stewed meat. Think, Mexican rice and beans with a tropical twist.
5. China: Fried Rice
Although sticky white rice is most traditionally eaten with Chinese dishes, fried rice can be eaten as a celebratory dish, often seen at Chinese banquets served before dessert. Fried rice is kind of like an “everything-but-the-kitchen-sink” dish. You can take advantage of all of your leftover vegetables and meats and stir fry it in a wok with rice, eggs, soy sauce, and sesame. This dish is easy and inexpensive, so be sure to try it out for yourself and impress your friends.
6. Denmark: Risalamande
Risalamande is rice pudding mixed with whipped cream, vanilla, and chopped almonds. It is then served cold and topped with cherry sauce. This tasty treat, given its reputation as a “savings” dessert, increased in popularity in Denmark after World War II. Now risalamande is served on Christmas. I would take this dessert over fruit cake any day.
7. Ghana: Jollof Rice
Jollof rice is one of the most popular dishes in Ghana and all across West Africa. It is made of rice (obviously), tomatoes, tomato paste, onions, salt, and various spices. This dish is also known as “Benachin” which means “one-pot.” That makes it another simple meal to make. Because of that tomato, the rice comes out with a beautiful red tint. Jollof is often served with meat or fish and can be seen eaten on a day to day basis.
8. Finland: Karelian Pasty
I know what you are thinking: Where is the rice in that little pie? Well, this is a Karelian pasty, one of Finland’s most popular dishes, and it has a filling composed of rice and butter. It is then surrounded by a flaky rye crust. There is also a common variation of the Karelian pasty that includes a filling of potato. Whichever way you prefer, the pasty is a fantastic breakfast or snack
9. India: Basmati Rice
Although the long and slender basmati rice is now eaten around the world, it is grown and overwhelmingly supplied by India. The rice has a strong, spicy aroma and flavor. This gives it its name “basmati,” which in English means fragrant. Basmati rice can be eaten with pretty much anything, but it tastes especially well as a base for a spicy meat or chicken curry, complementing the aromatic flavor.
10. Iran: Tahdig
You know when you overcook your rice and it gets all crispy on the bottom? Turns out that you can embrace that in order to make tahdig, an Iranian specialty. You can even add vegetables, like carrots or potatoes, to the bottom of the pot so they crisp up along with the rice. Now you can tell your parents that you knew how to cook rice all along.
Side note: I would like to see Taye Diggs eating tahdig.
11. Italy: Risotto
Risotto is that mysterious dish that you always see under the “Pasta” category in Italian restaurants that is so clearly not pasta. You make risotto by cooking rice in broth and wine until the rice becomes soft, flavorful, and so, so delicious. Risotto is not for the impatient, as you have to constantly add more and more broth, as the rice absorbs the juices fairly quickly. If you are up for the challenge, you get to add parmesan cheese and whatever kind of meat, fish or vegetables you desire for a ridiculously good Italian dinner or appetizer.
12. Japan: Sushi Rice
Rice is often consumed for every meal in Japan, making it the most popular grain. Japanese rice is white, short-grained, and becomes sticky when cooked, making it perfect for sushi. In order to make sushi, the rice is combined with vinegar and sesame. This gives it great flavor and makes it the right consistency to roll or be a base for fish. Once you get this rice down, sushi is actually surprisingly easy to make.
13. Jordan: Mansaf
Mansaf is a traditional Arab dish and the national dish of Jordan. It’s made of lamb cooked in a fermented yogurt sauce, served on top of rice. Mansaf is intertwined into Jordanian culture as it’s composed of meat and yogurt, utilizing their afro-pastoral lifestyle.
The dish also carries many traditions. The party stands around a table where the tray of Mansaf is placed in the middle. They then eat the dish with their right hand, making small balls and placing it in their mouth with three fingers, while their left hand is held behind their back. Complicated, I know. This tradition is not always practiced, but it proves how much culture can be a part of food.
14. Malaysia: Nasi Goreng
The Malaysian term “Nasi Goreng” means fried rice in english, but it is very different from the Chinese or Hawaiian dish. Like all fried rice, it is stir-fried in a wok, but Nasi Goreng distinguishes itself with its aromatic, smoky flavor. This comes from the caramelized sweet soy sauce and shrimp paste that is added in addition to the veggies and egg. These ingredients cause the rice to taste much more spicy and strong than its Chinese counterpart. Trust us, this dish is worth a trip to Malaysia.
15. Mexico: Spanish Rice/Arroz Rojo
Yes, we understand that it’s confusing that Spanish rice is served in Mexico and not Spain. This name (unsurprisingly) came from Americans, who often confuse Mexican for Spanish. In Mexico, the rice dish is known as arroz rojo (red rice), and it is made from white rice that is sautéed with tomatoes, onions, and garlic, until it becomes a golden brown color. Water or chicken broth and tomatoes are then added, giving it its familiar red-orange color. The popular dish is then used as a side for various Mexican entrees. And no, it’s not put in a burrito because burritos are not actually Mexican. Surprise!
16. New Orleans: Jambalaya
Jambalaya is a popular Creole dish of Spanish and French descent. The most common form of the dish consists of rice cooked with sausage (often Andouille), various other meats or seafood, and the “holy trinity” of vegetables: onions, celery, and green bell peppers. It is then, of course, cooked with a glorious amount of cajun spices, allowing jambalaya to hit your soul.
17. Norway/Sweden: Rice Pudding
Although rice pudding is eaten universally, it’s highly celebrated in Norway and Sweden. Rice pudding is a dessert made from rice and water or milk and sugar. You can then add various other seasonings, flavorings, ingredients, or toppings in order to individualize it. For example, in Norway rice pudding is served with a red sauce made from strawberries and raspberries and in Sweden it is mixed with oranges. Just experiment with this simple recipe in order to discover how you prefer your rice pudding.
18. Phillipines: Champorado
Champorado is a Filipino chocolate rice porridge served for breakfast, dessert, or during merienda, aka snack time. You make this dish by boiling rice and cocoa with milk and sugar in order to make it sweeter. This needs to be brought to America immediately.
19. Senegal: Fish and Rice (Thieboudienne)
Thieboudienne, which in English means fish and rice, is a traditional Senegalese entrée. The dish is pretty self-explanatory. It’s made with tomato paste and fish and rice (surprise). Although it sounds fairly simple, the French and African influences that are contributed to Senegalese culture make Thieboudienne one-of-a-kind.
20. Spain: Paella
Paella is traditionally Valencian, but many still consider it to be Spain’s national dish, making it one of the most popular entrées in the country. The name “paella” comes from the Old French “paella,” which in English means “pan.” This name is comes from the shallow pan where the dish is cooked and often served in. The rice in paella is cooked with various Spanish spices like saffron and paprika, and often includes seafood, often shrimp and other shellfish, and other various meats (particularly sausage) and vegetables. Paella has many similarities to the New Orleans jambalaya, but the spices give each their own distinct flavor.
21. Taiwan: Minced Pork Rice
Minced pork rice is composed of ground pork marinated and boiled in soy sauce and served on top of steamed white rice. I imagine this to be the epitome of Taiwanese comfort food. You can see me sitting by a fire on a cold, rainy day eating minced pork rice.