AAPI Month is drawing to a close but you can celebrate and amplify an Asian, Asian American or Pacific Islander owned restaurant or food business throughout the year.
Asia is the largest continent in the world — both by land area and population — and is made up of 48 countries and three different territories. It’s inclusive of places not just like China, but also Japan, India, Cambodia, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia – to name a few. Native Hawaiians and other ethnic groups such as Samoan, Fijian, Tongan are typically grouped as Pacific Islanders.
Pacific Islander and Asian contributions on foods consumed in the Dallas-Fort Worth region and across Texas are plentiful.
And most dishes include rice.
The state’s rice production has a rich history tied to the tiny grain. Ingredients like rice, which earliest recorded entry first arrived in Texas in 1828, were largely influenced by Japanese immigrants in the early 1900s. A Fort Worth Star-Telegram news clipping dated June 22, 1903, announced, “Japanese To Come To Texas.”
Seito Saibara was a former university president, a prominent attorney and a member of the Japanese parliament, according to the Texas State Historical Association. So how did this Asian businessman become an influential player in Texas rice production?
In the early 1900s, Texas was one of the two states producing almost 100% of all rice crops in America. Around this same time railroad corporations and local businesses forged a pact and began offering incentives to immigrants to persuade them to move to what was pegged as the “Texas Coast” and purchase land that the Santa Fe Railroad company marketed as being significantly discounted.
Texas was a playground for rice farmers looking to relocate to lands that offered fertile soils, more stable climate and plentiful water reserves. Texas, at first, appeared to be more welcoming than California, which years prior wooed Asian migrants to pan for gold during the infamous Gold Rush. As the workforce evolved in California, some of those Asian workers headed to Texas. In 1902, the Japanese persuaded some successful businessmen to move to the Texas Coast with their families. Here, they would be able to purchase heavily discounted land and buy equipment necessary to begin commercial rice farming.
Saibara, like the other settlers from east Asia, brought much more than a fervent desire to enrich the new soil with rice, they also brought a new variety of rice to the country thanks to Emperor Meiji who donated 300 pounds of a resilient, disease-resistant rice strain to the farmers, according to Chron.com. Because of his gift they would produce upward of triple the amount of crops previously expected.
Though Saibara is just one man who helped change the face of Texas’ agricultural production, countless other nameless figures also dedicated their agrarian expertise and farming techniques into our state to help make it a giant in not only cotton and cattle, but rice as well.
Although rice is one staple found in many popular Pacific Island and east Asian dishes, others are unique to their own specific region. Many southeastern cultures incorporate herbs like cilantro or coriander to add distinct and fragrant aromas to their foods.
Breakfast stir fry with udon noodles
For a quick recipe that pays homage to my own Japanese ancestry, I created this dish that combines a traditional Yaki udon with the savory comforts of an American breakfast classic. Yaki udon is a Japanese stir-fried meal consisting of thick, chewy, udon noodles typically mixed with soy sauce, meat and veggies. It can be served hot, cold or stir-fried and is easily adaptable to vegetarian and vegan friendly dishes.
- 2 packets udon noodles
- 2 cups stir fry vegetables chopped (I use mushrooms, bok choy, onions)
- 2-3 scallions chopped
- ½ lb breakfast sausage or thick cut bacon
- 1 poached egg or 1 sunny side up egg
- 1 Tablespoon avocado oil
Spicy Noodle Sauce
- 2½ Tablespoons dark soy sauce
- 2 Tablespoons oyster sauce
- 1 Tablespoon mirin
- 2 teaspoons brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons chili oil paste or hot sauce
- ½ teaspoon rice wine vinegar
Sauce: Mix all the ingredients for the sauce in a small bowl and set aside.
Cook the noodles: Remove udon noodles from its package and add it to a pot of boiling water. Frozen udon noodles can be added directly to the pot of boiling water. Stir gently until your udon noodles are separated and pliable. This should take 1 – 2 minutes. The noodles are precooked already so avoid overcooking them! Rinse and drain noodles under cold water. If not using right away, drizzle a light oil to keep them from sticking.
Stir fry the meat: Heat your pan over high heat and add the oil. Add in the sausage or bacon and stir fry until almost cooked.
Cook the egg: In a separate pot or pan prepare the egg. I like the combination of the runny yolk with the tender noodles and savory bacon so I prefer to serve poached or sunny-side up. Set aside.
Finish the stir fry: Add the vegetables and stir fry until meat is fully cooked and vegetables are soft. Next add in the noodles, sauce, and scallions. Add less sauce if you prefer. Continue stir frying for about 3 minutes or until well combined. Place the egg on top and serve immediately.