As an Asian American, I have become semi-accustomed to the ill-treatment of traditional Asian ingredients and the general whitewashing of Asian dishes. Bland, hard chunks of cold tofu as a meat substitute? Eaten it, hated it, accepted it. Putting orange food-dye to “color” fried rice? I have a programmed response: “Oh, white people.” At most, I occasionally rant to my friends. However, not all Americanized Asian food has led to disaster. Orange chicken? One of my favorite guilty pleasures. All in all, I have learned to accept the whitewashing of Asian food. Enter, Uncle Roger.
Introducing Uncle Roger
A bright orange collared shirt tucked into a pair of jeans. A nondescript black leather belt holding a belt phone case. A thick, cliched “Asian” accent with Malaysian phrases peppered in. References to viewers as “nieces and nephews.” He may not seem like the typical popular YouTuber. However, while mimicking a stereotypical middle-aged Malaysian man, Uncle Roger humorously criticizes non-east Asian chefs and their “East Asian” recipes — particularly, egg fried rice recipes — in videos that have garnered millions of views.
Uncle Roger is actually an alter ego character of Malaysian comedian Nigel Ng. He first debuted this character on Instagram and TikTok before eventually taking him to YouTube. He soon catapulted to fame with Uncle Roger’s reaction to BBC Food host Hersha Patel’s recipe video on egg fried rice. He roasts her for not knowing how to cook rice properly, stimulating an almost cathartic release for the Asian community to come together and laughingly acknowledge the cooking transgressions.
As user Justin Y. comments under the famous reaction video, “Imagine messing up cooking rice so bad you single-handedly unite the Asian community against you.” That YouTube video currently holds 19 million views, the video on Twitter holds 40 million views and his Facebook page holds 1.1 million views. His other videos also hold millions of views, and he has 2.7 million subscribers. Meanwhile, memes of him are populating the internet, and hundreds of people dressed up as Uncle Roger for Halloween.
A Broader Conversation on Food Racism
Patel, of course, is not the only chef that has made transgressions in the culinary industry. Many other chefs and culinary publications have been accused of whitewashing, misrepresenting or not giving proper credit to POC and their food.
Bon Appetit (BA), which exploded with racial accusations this summer, has a long history of whitewashing food — calling pho the “new ramen,” having a young white chef instruct people on the proper way of eating pho and putting “mashed blueberries and blackberries, lime juice, coconut milk, gummy bears and popcorn” in a Halo-Halo recipe.
It does not stop with Bon Appetit. A HuffPost article details examples of similar offenses, which includes the time when The New York Times published a pho recipe with no noodles, only broccoli and quinoa.
To be clear, I do not care what unholy “fusion” concoctions people make in their kitchen. I have thrown together random American and Asian ingredients to create such unholy—but often delicious—combinations. However, to act as an authority figure on these ethnic dishes without stressing that it is not authentic, understanding the dish, following proper cooking techniques or giving proper credit is a whole other story.
I, for one, am tired of being angry at these supposedly great culinary chefs and publications. Uncle Roger’s humor and savage roasts are a welcome change for me and the rest of the Asian community—and it is probably more palatable to people who do not understand the anger or the food.
Instead of glaring at Jamie Oliver for using packaged, pre-cooked rice for his fried rice demonstration, I was left giggling when Uncle Roger said, “You hear sizzling. I hear my ancestors crying.” Instead of growing angry at Oliver for putting chili jam into rice, I grew cheery at Uncle Roger’s dramatic black-and-white sobbing and reenactment of the invention of chili jam. Instead of just staring in disbelief at the finished horror show, I could only laugh as Uncle Roger said, “This rice looks so wet. Look at this. You can see your reflection inside. Mulan is gonna start singing when she sees this rice.”
Uncle Roger Can Also Be Nice
I was also drawn to Uncle Roger for his willingness to work with people who he has roasted, and for his ability to give credit where it is due. After Uncle Roger’s reaction to Patel’s egg fried rice went viral, Patel became the target of cyberbullying and hateful comments on her social media. Instead of leaving her to the sharks, Uncle Roger collaborated with her in a video where they worked together to make egg fried rice.
In contrast to the comments left under the roast video, comments under this video were largely positive. User Lester Nygaard writes, “Big respect to Hersha for being able to take a joke! Too [many] celebrities and people these days get far too offended too quickly and end up taking themselves way too seriously.” Uncle Roger and Patel (newly christened as Auntie Hersha) collaborated in other videos, like the one where Uncle Roger educates Patel on London’s Chinatown. These videos hold similar glowing comments, with user Sarah Z writing, “It’s oddly wholesome that they’re just friends now.”
When reviewing Gordon Ramsay’s Indonesian fried rice, Uncle Roger was able to give Ramsay credit for doing everything properly, while injecting the video with his trademark humor. He praised him for using leftover rice and a wok, cooking with a proper fire and cooking with traditional Indonesian ingredients, such as galangal, sambal, and rendang.
Instead of nitpicking at Ramsay’s cooking or overreacting to formulate roasts, Uncle Roger kept it mostly complimentary with a few casual roasts, mostly directed toward other chefs. One of them being, “You got all the good cooking skill, maybe you need some moisturizer. But don’t worry! Go ask Jamie Oliver for his wet rice. Put the rice on your face, moisturize instantly.”
His savage humor, characterization as that stereotypical blunt Asian uncle and knowledge of Asian culture and food make Uncle Roger a joy to watch. If you ever feel tired of seeing whitewashed Asian food, or if you simply just want to watch something funny, please go check out Uncle Roger.