YouTube comedian Nigel Ng shows his outrage at the strange way Hersha Patel cooks rice for BBC Food. Photo from mrnigelng on YouTube
Food & Drink Features

Nothing wrong with how that lady cooked rice—but all sorts of wrong with how the Internet reacted

The BBC’s Hersha Patel likely cooked rice with her own Indian heritage in mind—and Nigel Ng just played the angry Asian parody we still get a kick out of. By NANA OZAETA
ANCX | Jul 28 2020

Several weeks ago, UK-based Malaysian comedian Nigel Ng, as his “Uncle Roger” character, posted a reaction video on his YouTube channel. In the video, he cries outrage at the BBC Food cooking demo of one unsuspecting Hersha Patel who ruins a recipe for Chinese-style Egg Fried Rice for all to see. His video soon went viral, with now close to 6 million viewers and counting.

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As one of those millions, I was equal parts horrified and laughing out loud at Ng who recounts in hilarious detail Patel’s every rice-cooking crime. But as with all things viral, either they soon fade into oblivion, or they give us the chance to learn something new, not just about the many ways to cook rice, but perhaps how to better manage our Internet anger.

 

The outrage

Described as an award-winning presenter and filmmaker by the BBC Food website, Hersha Patel cheerfully prepared an Egg Fried Rice recipe for BBC Food, oblivious to the many crimes she was about to commit.

In his reaction video, Nigel Ng, aka “Uncle Roger,” attacks her at almost every step:

“Why you measure water with cup? Just use finger... not with British tea cup.”

“Wait, so you don’t wash the rice... Now the rice stinky, like you!”

“How can you drain rice with colander? This is not pasta... If your rice too wet, you f*cked up.”

“Why you running water through ri-- (cough, cough)? You ruining the rice!”

Online commenters piled on the outrage, with one saying, “As an Asian, that woman should be fined for making people think this is what we do.” And another goes, “what IS THIS ABOMINATION!”

 

The second look

After my initial fury, I took a pause to realize how Nigel Ng as a comedian actually frames his critique—not as seat-of-the-pants outrage, but as a carefully crafted reaction that has us fall for every cultural “trap” his character sets. If you find a way to see through your outrage, you’ll see he’s playing us all along.

Ng uses a Chinese accent and diction (not how he actually speaks, mind you) that reminds me of Stephen Yan from Wok with Yan, that popular cooking show from the 1980s that introduced Chinese cooking to North America. Yan played the persona of the “funny little Asian guy” who spoke imperfect English and wielded his cleaver like he was Jackie Chan, while feeding into every stereotype Westerners have of Asians.

Uncle Roger heavily plays into that, and if there’s any doubt, he doubles down when he starts using the “M” word. Yes, that’s MSG, as he extorts Patel for not using it to flavor her admittedly very bland fried rice. He leans heavily on the “Asians love MSG” narrative to comical effect. We may be laughing at Patel, but we’re laughing at all the Uncle Rogers in our lives as well.

 

The facts

While Patel was roundly mocked online for her disastrous rice recipe, a little research reveals that she may not be as clueless as she is perceived to be. Patel is of Indian heritage (she’s Asian too!) with her own “Cook with a Little Indian” series on YouTube where she cooks mostly Indian dishes with “overall mind/body health” in mind.

Curious as to why she decided to cook rice in that odd way, I pulled out my old Indian cookbook, 1,000 Indian Recipes by Neelam Batra (2002, Wiley Publishing), turned to the chapter on rice, and, voilà, on page 533, step 1 of the Boiled Basmati Rice recipe reads like this:

  1. Put the rice and the water in a large pot and bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium, and continue to boil until the rice is 3/4 cooked, about 7 minutes. (There will be plenty of water in the pot even after the rice is ready.) Drain the rice through a large fine-mesh strainer and discard the water, or use it as a base for soups, stews, or curries.

So here it is in black and white: you can actually cook long-grain basmati rice (as opposed to the short grain variety we tend to favor) like pasta, draining the rice of excess water after cooking. In this recipe, after draining, the rice is then returned to the pot to finish cooking over low heat until the grains separate. Note that the cookbook also covers the “absorption method,” which is the process more familiar to most other Asians, including Uncle Roger.

While the above recipe doesn’t mention Patel’s other crime of rinsing hot cooked rice in cold water, in fact, she’s not the only guilty one. After a Google search on “how to cook rice in India,” here’s what I discovered from longtime Indian recipe blog, Mamta’s Kitchen. When describing the same “pasta method” of cooking rice, the blog elaborates, “Indians do not run cold water on cooked rice, as it is almost always served immediately, fresh and hot. However, this is a good thing to do, if you are going to use the rice for a stir-fry, which requires cold rice. Running cold water will stop it from cooking further and getting lumpy.”

Aha, Patel isn’t guilty after all! She was doing the traditional “pasta method” all along, then rinsing it afterwards for stir-frying. Her only “true crime” is that she didn’t pre-wash the rice before cooking. (Hmm, but could that step have been edited out of the video?)

In fact, the real culprit here is BBC Food which doesn’t bother to give context to this recipe—that it’s a Chinese-style fried rice dish that uses an Indian rice cooking method—confusing us instead. It’s just another example of how Western food media tends to jumble up diverse culinary origins into a vaguely “Asian” category.

 

The lesson

With Uncle Roger’s faux encouragement, us Southeast Asians and East Asians became rice-cooking supremacists, instantly condemning Patel for her horrendous cooking skills. But what we really did was bury a part of the whole story—that rice is cooked in every continent on earth except Antarctica, and that rice doesn’t belong solely to us.

From Uncle Roger’s pretend outrage to the online trolling of Patel, all’s well that may end well as both Patel and Ng seem to have declared a truce during a recent meet-up. Patel documented their get-together on her Instagram account, posting, “To all my new friends/haters @mrnigelng and I have just had a lovely afternoon discussing my ‘crimes’ against rice.” The video shows them sitting on a bench in the park, looking happy and like the best of friends, with Ng declaring, “Don’t post anything mean on Instagram, alright!” Patel then explains that she was asked by BBC Food to cook their recipe, then says, “I know how to cook rice, that’s all I’m saying.” It looks like they have the last laugh at the viral outrage they both generated, with Patel promising a joint rice cooking video soon.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Hersha Patel (@hershapatel) on

What is the lesson here then? This is my take. For anything outrageous or wrong or stupid that you see on the Internet, take this 4-step approach: 1) react honestly in private; 2) pause; 3) ask questions; then 4) revisit the content. It may not work every time, but it may save you from getting angry over nothing, and remind you to reserve your rage for the issues that really do matter in this world.

My final words on the matter: let the woman cook her rice the way she wants to. And no, I will not be cooking her Egg Fried Rice at home, ever.