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Now reading The Crispy-Bottomed Rice Dishes of the World

The Crispy-Bottomed Rice Dishes of the World

Guo ba, hkaka, kazmag, socarrat, and more.

There is no single word in English for the crispy rice at the bottom of the pot. It’s our language’s failing that we haven’t come up with a word for that almost-universally beloved component: the nutty, golden, shatteringly delicate crust at the bottom of the rice pot. The rest of the world has not been so negligent. Rice-loving cultures around the world have their own nicknames for the deliciously crispy bits. Here’s a sampling.


CHINA

鍋耙 or 锅巴

guo ba

Literally, this means “pan scrapings.” Guo ba (called by the corrupted name wor bah on many U.S. menus) is actually the dish made with fan jiu, the rice at the bottom of the pot (people often rig the auto-shutoff button on rice cookers to get this layer!). It’s then fried and served, still sizzling, in a soup.


Iran

ته دیگ

tahdig

From the Farsi tah (bottom) and dig (pot), tahdig is a name for the crust that forms on Persian jeweled rice pilaf (or the bottom of flatbread or roasted potatoes). The dish is cooked in a round pot and turned upside down onto a platter for serving, so diners must break into the golden crust to reveal the treasures—dried fruit, nuts, and candied orange peel—underneath.


Iraq

حكاكة الرز

hkaka

This Baghdadi term is a regional and onomatopoeic word—hkaka is the sound a metal rice spatula makes as it scrapes the rice from the bottom of the pot. The same word is used whether you’ve toasted the rice on purpose or just accidentally burnt dinner.


Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan:

казмаг

kazmag

In Central Asia, plov (also pilaf or pulao) is a staple one-pot dish of rice mixed with meat, vegetables, onion, and spices—not unlike South Asia’s biryani. Uzbek and Azeri cooks use the kazmag as a deliberate strategy to keep the rest of the rice from sticking, putting a cup or so of oil-coated rice (often with an egg) around the sides of an iron pot before cooking. It’s often soaked with melted butter for extra richness, then served with the plov.


Spain:

socarrat

Derived from the Catalan verb socarrar, “to singe.” Just as pie can be judged by its crust and roast chicken by its skin, a good paella can be judged by its socarrat, that beautiful, brown bottom layer where all of the flavors soak into the rice and caramelize. Getting it right is tricky, but the basic rule is, don’t stir!


Colombia and Puerto Rico:

pegao

Also pega. Both terms come from the Spanish pegado, literally “stuck” or “glued”—the verb for “to glue” is pegar. In Colombia, the pega is served as a side or for breakfast as leftovers, usually topped with a fried egg; in Puerto Rico, it’s usually served with beans.


Ecuador and Colombia:

cocolón

This dish from Colombia and Ecuador is believed to derive from the Quechua word kukayo, which means rations for traveling long distances. Usually this would involve coca leaf as well as food—both crucial for covering lots of difficult ground on foot. (If you’re a Lord of the Rings fan, you can stop wondering what the Elves put in lembas bread.)


Dominican Republic:

concón

White rice cooked in a cast-iron caldero will form a thick crust that holds its shape when served with beans or stewed beef.


Korea:

누룽지

nurungji

Meaning “scorched,” this word describes a phenomenon well known to lovers of Korean stone-pot dishes, in which the rice keeps cooking as the diner eats, growing crisper and more golden. Hot water is added to the nurungji after the meal and served as a tea (possibly a holdover from hard times, when the extra calories made a difference in children’s diets). It’s also used to flavor ice cream in Seoul.


Japan:

お焦げ

okoge

This term, which means “burnt” or “overcooked,” refers to the crust formed in the clay pots that were commonly used to cook rice before electric rice cookers came along. It’s not particularly loved in Japan. The word, according to Julia Moskin, is also “used as slang for a single woman who spends a lot of time with gay men.”


Senegal:

xooñ

This Wolof word is part of Senegal’s peppery national dish, ceebu jën (literally “rice and fish”), which can be found everywhere, from restaurants to home kitchens to street vendors. An informal survey found that 90 percent of Senegalese eat ceebu jën at home weekly. The crispy rice is served on the side or below the fish. During the Wolof empire, this dish spread far and wide; it’s now popular all over Africa and is often called jollof rice (another term for “Wolof”).


Indonesia:

intip

This Javanese word means “dried rice crust,” and it’s a popular snack in Java. The crust is removed from the pan whole, as a round disc, then refried and topped with salt or melted brown sugar. A similar, smaller rice cracker called rengginang is also sold in stores across Indonesia.


Philippines:

dukot

About a quarter of Filipinos speak Cebuano, and many more disable their rice cookers’ auto-shutoff button to get dukot. Because the U.S. occupied the Philippines for nearly fifty years, the English spoken here is American English—and since Americans don’t have an equivalent term, the word dukot also sometimes serves among Cebuano speakers as a symbol for cultural ideas that just can’t be translated.


Vietnam:

cơm cháy

This Vietnamese term means “burnt rice,” but it’s often burnt on purpose. Glutinous sticky rice is cooked, then rolled out in a metal pan and cooked to achieve maximum browning. The resulting cakes are often topped with cottony dried pork floss, a little sugar, chili powder, and scallions for the dish cơm cháy chà bông.


 Laos:

ແໝມເຂົ້າ

nam khao

This Laotian dish combines khao, rice, with nham or som moo, fermented or pickled pork. It originated with burnt rice from the bottom of the pot, but today the rice is crisped deliberately, fried in balls like Italian arancini—and then broken up into bits, combined with som moo, fish sauce, lime, and cilantro, and eaten wrapped in lettuce leaves as a sour-sweet rice salad.