Tahdig is adored by Persians worldwide, but it’s unlikely you’ll find this golden treasure on the menu. Not quite a snack, not exactly a condiment, tahdig — literally translating to “bottom of the pot” — is an intentional byproduct of Persian rice that is scarcely discussed but frequently devoured.
By my 20s I’d tried making tahdig — a crunchy, buttery, crackling-of sorts — only twice in my life. Both attempts had ended in mini disasters.
For our non-Persian readers, I should point out that there are two main kinds of tahdig. Rice tahdig is the most common type, and is simply the crispy bottom later of Persian steamed rice. The other popular variety is potato tahdig, which is formed when scalloped potatoes are fried under a bed of Persian steamed rice. Both equally glorious, crunchy and golden.
The first time I tried making potato tahdig was when I was in Fiji, visiting an Australian friend who was living on the main island. She had a couple of leftover potatoes and a bucket full of white rice (staples in Fijian cuisine) sitting in the corner of her kitchen bench. On a whim, I decided to return her week-long hospitality by whipping up these ingredients into a home-cooked meal, Persian style. That attempt ended with a couple of floating scalloped potatoes and undercooked rice in a sea of salty water. It must be the stove, I’m not used to it, I said to my friend at the time. But we both knew that my pathetic excuse was as useless as my floppy potato slices.
Growing up, I’d watched Maman make Persian rice and tahdig countless times. So at the time I didn’t know where I was going wrong.
I could recall the way in which Maman would carefully wrap a small tea towel around the lid of the pot, a bit like a turban, so as to capture the steam coming up from the rice. I could remember the smell of the butter as it melted over the fluffy steamed rice. And I could never forget table wresting my way across the dinner table to reach the last golden shard on the plate.
So why couldn’t I get it right?
Always one to get back on the proverbial horse, I gave it a second try just a few weeks later. I was back home in Sydney, and this time I was using my own stove, so there were no excuses. I even simplified things by making the classic tahdig, using only rice. Well, this was another failed attempt. There was no gold at the bottom of the rice pot. No. Just a layer of burnt Persian pride.
I’ve since found out that the recipe is really not that difficult, but as I hadn’t paid enough attention to Maman’s recipe or her special tricks in the past, I was simply missing a few easy, yet crucial steps. Nowadays, there’s no excuse!
Click here for Maman’s full-proof Persian rice and tahdig recipe.
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