18 (Sat) September 2010
-Oksu, Seongdong, Seoul, Korea-
with the Family
Nurungji tang is a Korean dish. Dates back to a time not so long ago when rice was cooked in steel or stoneware pots over open flames, which often left the bottom layer of rice slightly browned and crispy, maybe even burnt. This layer was either scraped off and eaten as is, or water might be poured into the pot and brought to a boil, releasing the rice from the surface and creating a kind of soup, absurdly simple and yet gratifying for its warm, toasty wholesomeness, the most basic of Korean comfort foods.
I don’t recall ever having run across burnt rice in my experiences with other food cultures, so I’m not sure whether it’s even a thing among the many culinary traditions from around the world that rely on rice as a staple, but it’s popular here in Korea.
With the ubiquity of electric rice cookers, nurungji is no longer a happy by-product but a product-by-design. My mother will take leftover rice or sometimes make new rice just for this purpose and spread about a bowl’s worth in a thin layer across a large skillet over low heat, flipping occasionally for 20 minutes or so, and then repeating with the remaining rice, ending up with a batch of round crisp patties. Some, she’ll eat them directly, breaking off small pieces and munching on them like they’re cookies. The rest will be thrown into the freezer for a rainy day, or a sick day, when nothing but nurungji tang will do. Whenever my parents go on vacation abroad, where the local cuisine may not be to their complete liking, my mother will often pack a few of the patties in her bag, which can be made into a quick soup with a bowl of boiling water from the coffee pot in the hotel room – she calls this “know-how.”
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