Uncle Roger is basically All my Chinese Uncles. And my dad, who regularly berated me for not having the heat high enough when I cooked in front of him growing up. “Are you frying that, or stewing it?!” he’d yell over the din of the range hood fan, shaking his head.
Dad recently sent me this article on wok hei (“breath of the wok”), which mentioned Uncle Roger’s now-famous YouTube video from July. This was the first I’d ever heard of Uncle Roger — that’s what being off social media does to a person — and though I don’t love all his videos or everything about him, I love how much Uncle Roger makes me think about my own Chinese heritage, and everything I’ve learned about being Chinese from my dad.
Dad can’t be bothered to watch Uncle Roger’s videos. “They’re too long,” he says. My (white, and very competent cooker of Chinese cuisine) mom, however, is always keen to know what the heck my brother Adam and I area talking about on our family Hangouts. So I told her I’d send her a list of Uncle Roger videos to watch, in order, as the humor definitely builds on itself.
Here’s that list, for Mom and anyone else who hasn’t yet discovered the joy that is Uncle Roger!
Uncle Roger: the videos to watch, in order
This is the one that started it all in July, when comedian Nigel Ng released a video of his character Uncle Roger reacting to an episode of BBC Food:
As someone who occasionally makes money as a professional presenter (meaning: I get paid to act out scripts representing the ideas of my employer, not myself), I really feel for Hersha Patel! The recipe was BBC’s, not hers, alas.
I’m also not a huge fan of the misogyny — “My God, WOMAN!” — though sadly, this is pretty authentic if my Chinese uncles are anything to go by.
Fortunately for Hersha, she gets a chance to redeem herself… sort of? Uncle Roger visits her house, where she makes him HER fried rice recipe:
I prefer punching up, so to speak. Jamie Oliver gets what he deserves in this video. I’m going to make a bold statement here and say that even without Uncle Roger’s commentary, any self-respecting cooker of Chinese cuisine would be horrified by much of what goes on here:
Gordon Ramsay might be a raging asshole but he does appear to make a decent egg fried rice. I personally question the authenticity / practicality of using of TWO woks, even if Uncle Roger gives him points for that:
Adam (even later than me to the Uncle Roger party!) wanted to know if Uncle Roger has reviewed Nat’s What I Reckon… I’d never heard of the guy, but as soon as Adam started describing him — “Australian, long hair, tattoos and piercings, swears a lot, he’s actually a really good chef” — I was able to confirm: Yes! And for the love of food, please say NO to frying in sesame oil:
I’m impressed with people’s creativity when it comes to Uncle Roger memes, or as Uncle Roger pronounces it, “Mee-mees”.
When will Uncle Roger make his own egg fried rice?
Is Uncle Roger racist?
I’m curious, why do you ask? Is it because you’re worried Uncle Roger is perpetuating racist Asian stereotypes?
An important distinction here is that Nigel IS Asian, and that Uncle Roger is a very nuanced presentation of people well known to him, me, and so many other Asian fans. There are a few cringey moments for me, mostly in terms of both Nigel’s own and Uncle Roger’s view of women.
But for the most part, I love how well he nails so many aspects of a culture, accent, and attitude familiar to me from my father’s side of the family. And I find him MUCH less offensive than some other Asian comics who are, in my opinion, pandering to a white crowd and doing a lot more harm than good when it comes to shaping that audience’s view of Asian people.
If a white person were doing Uncle Roger? That would be a different story.
“The difference between them doing it and me doing is that my version is rooted in my experience growing up in Asia, which is celebratory. And the fact that it’s the Asian community who enjoys [my comedy] the most.”Nigel Ng in Vice Magazine
Here’s more of what Nigel himself has to say:
“If people view the video, and they see just a stereotype, then there’s not much I can do to change your opinion, right?,” says Ng. “But if you actually see the things, listen to the things I say and if you catch the little details and stuff, and you go to Asia and you’re like, ‘Oh shit, Uncle Roger does that!’… Hopefully, people will get it, as they get to know more Asian people. Plus, I think a majority of my fans, or at least half my fans, are Asians from Asia. They see their uncles reflected in Uncle Roger. They see their parents reflected in him.”Nigel Ng in Variety
You can also listen to him and his long-time friend Evelyn Mok discuss such topics in this episode of their podcast, Rice to Meet You, starting at around the 34:24 mark:
There’s a lot to unpack with regard to culinary appropriation of Asian food by white people (there are so many other articles I could have linked to, maybe that’s a future post), not to mention anti-Asian racism in general. Case in point: Nigel himself got punched recently by a random stranger on the street in an episode of of what he believes was COVID-related racism. Ugh.
So how DO you cook fried rice?
According to the podcast above, Evelyn’s dad very much inspired the Uncle Roger character… and he used to be a chef! She filmed him making his fried rice, and it’s pretty much exactly how both Dad AND Mom make fried rice, with a few exceptions: frozen peas and shredded iceberg lettuce instead of carrots, a bit of oyster sauce in addition to light soy sauce, no MSG. Add a TINY bit of roasted sesame oil right at the end, and serve with spicy fermented bean paste.
This video makes me super homesick, as I’ve often thought we should film Dad making all our favorite Chinese family recipes. Maybe one day, if international travel is ever a thing again.
Thanks, Mom and Dad, for teaching us how to cook proper Chinese food! ❤