Food trends come and go, but humble, unsung heroes remain, hanging around backstage while other dishes hog the limelight. No more, we say; fried rice, it's your turn to shine. Yep, one our most loved but least celebrated dishes is good old fried rice. What started out as a way to use up leftover rice is now a dish in its own right, an essential part of a meal at any Melbourne Chinese restaurant and, in some cases, a meal all on its own. Here are some of our fave places to dig in to Melbourne's best fried rice.
Kong | Richmond
An old urban myth says that you must count out exactly 500 grains of rice and coat each one in oil – individually, using a small paint brush – in order to cook perfect fried rice. Luckily, it's not actually that difficult to make fried rice, though the folks at Kong seem to take the same level of care when making theirs. Even card-carrying tofu haters will swear the charred tofu and enoki mushroom fried rice is a delight, but we can't go past the kimchi and beef brisket version. The fermented cabbage adds spice and piquancy, while the brisket gives the dish an extra layer of flavour.
Qiang Ji BBQ Chinese Restaurant | Glen Huntly
For a full-on flavour hit, try the salted fish and chicken fried rice at this student hangout. Food at Qiang Ji BBQ tends to be a bit overseasoned, causing locals to give it the affectionate nickname 'Salt Palace', but that doesn't stop them returning for roast duck and pork belly accompanied by the aforementioned fried rice. The dish certainly lives up to its name, with tiny but powerfully pungent pieces of preserved salted fish tempered by chunks of chicken and the odd bit of shredded lettuce. This is an acquired taste – and once you've acquired it, you'll be coming back for more.
Good Luck Tea House | Prahran
If you're a die-hard fried rice fan, you've hit the jackpot here. Good Luck Tea House dishes up some of Melbourne's best fried rice, in five different varieties, from vegetarian fried rice right through to one studded with bacon and scallops. Although it's not cool to admit it, we like the special fried rice best. And while you're scoffing, 'What?! That daggy old dish?', we're scoffing down hot mouthfuls of fluffy diced omelette, chunks of red roast pork and diced vegies, all balanced with perfectly cooked rice. Told you it was special.
China Red | Melbourne CBD
Get some spice in your rice at contemporary Chinese restaurant in Melbourne CBD, China Red, where you can order fried rice with kimchi and XO sauce from a nifty touchscreen menu. The XO sauce (a scallop- and chilli- based sauce that can be used while cooking or as a condiment) adds an earthy breadth and depth to the dish; the slightly sour kimchi provides good bursts of spice. Not hot enough for you? Fire up the touchscreen and order the fish in chilli oil, too – and a fire extinguisher for your palate.
Rose Garden BBQ | Melbourne CBD
Plant yourself at this cheap and cheerful eatery, choose a couple of dishes from their 'Top 10' menu, and both your wallet and your tastebuds will be happy. If your budget's super tight, the Rose Garden dish up some of the best fried rice in town; full of shredded duck and preserved vegetables, it's a meal in itself. The richness of the duck is offset by the salty tang of the vegetables, making the dish both indulgent and well-balanced.
Mamak | Melbourne CBD
Fried rice isn't exclusive to Chinese restaurants – it's also a staple in Indonesia and Malaysia, where it's called nasi goreng, and it's just as delicious as the Chinese version we all know and love. Kecap manis (sweet soy sauce) gives the dish a sweeter flavour, which is often balanced by garnish of crispy fried shallots. Try the Malaysian version at Mamak, where it's served with an addictive spicy sambal and a good handful of vegies. It's even better with some of Mamak's smoky chicken satay.
Warung Gudeg | Clayton
Just as there's special fried rice on many Chinese restaurants' menus, so there is a nasi goreng special on offer at popular Indonesian café, Warung Gudeg. It's served with pretty much everything but the kitchen sink – chicken, fish balls and prawns all make an appearance – and the whole lot is topped with a fried egg, making it a rather filling meal in itself. But since you've come all the way to Clayton to sample some authentic Indo cuisine, you should also try the gule kambing (lamb curry), and there's always room for dessert….
Check out more of Melbourne's best Chinese restaurants.
Main image credit: Tide and Thyme.