New England Patriots star Rob Gronkowski did NOT offend an Asian fan with his fried rice joke earlier this week ... so says the Asian fan himself, who tells TMZ Sports, he laughed along with the rest of the crowd.
The 41-year-old (who wished to be identified only by his first name Joe) tells us, when Gronk poked fun at him at Sunday's Q&A event in Foxborough, MA -- saying, "They told me he could only cook fried rice!" -- he wasn't bothered by it ... in fact, he thought it was funny.
Joe says he's been buddies with Gronk for more than a year and a fan for more than 15, so a little teasing here and there is all in good fun.
He says he knows Gronk meant no harm by the jokes, which also included calling Joe "Leslie Chow" ... aka Ken Jeong's character from "The Hangover."
Joe tells us, he feels partly responsible for the firestorm around the fried rice joke because he hammed up his dance moves for the camera, and generally acted silly when he probably shouldn't have.
Joe says he reconnected with Gronk Wednesday night at an autograph signing, and the tight end expressed regret over the whole incident -- but as far as Joe is concerned, it's all water under the bridge.