Though the bacon, egg, and hash brown plate once held an iron grip on my heart, I’ve since rediscovered an old flame: the rice bowl. When I was a picky little kid, my grandmother would make me bowls of rice with shredded cold cuts on top, which I would bathe in Maggi (not soy, but it is like crack cocaine for Vietnamese people) sauce. As I got older, breakfast got a little more mobile: toaster confections frosted with negligible amounts of nutrition, hard-boiled eggs, giant bagels with cream cheese. On weekends, my mom would make us scrambled eggs, bacon, and toast, and I would construct sandwiches (ancestors to the Breakfast Banh Mi) out of the whole spread. I would add Maggi, of course.
Eating “American” worked out well enough for me because throughout grade school, I felt really self-conscious about eating food that could be easily marked as “Asian.” Many Asian Americans that I know have memories of being teased at school for their “stinky” bagged lunches. Their parents would pack them whatever leftovers were available, so sometimes that meant ma po tofu or tea eggs or rice noodles with fish sauce. Sometimes that meant food that stupid kids could assume was made of stray cats, and they would accuse your family of getting their groceries at the animal shelter.
To avoid the shame of stinky food, I brought Lunchables. These days, I’m much more appreciative of the palate I inherited. The lunches that I now pack for work tend to stink up the whole office, and I’m more than happy to share a few bites with my coworkers.
It also helps that my lily-white husband will literally eat anything I put in front of him, no matter how weird it smells. He loves the rice bowls that I whip up for our breakfasts, and is way more into those than American-style brunch foods like French toast (ick) or eggs benedict. (But I will forever cherish a good Bloody Mary.)
When I make rice bowls, I usually just grab whatever’s in my fridge. As soon as I can tear myself out of bed, I microwave some rice, fry up some meat and vegetables, chop up herbs, and poach a pair of eggs. Past bowls have included: sesame-fried Church’s chicken with nori and kimchi; Chinese sausage (lap xuong) with scallions and bok choy; and kale, onions, and carrots with oyster sauce. A warm, steamy rice bowl is so comforting in the morning, and its flavor beats the pants off of the one-note, typical breakfasts that many Americans are used to eating.
I have a lot of leftovers from making banh xeo, so this morning I sauteed some ground chicken with a handful of bean sprouts and a few dashes of Maggi. For the vegetable component, I picked purple mint leaves, sliced a cucumber, and chopped green leaf lettuce. Just a splash of nuoc cham and a dollop of sambal oelek, and there’s breakfast!