I recently cooked a pot of jollof rice using home-made chicken broth and as the delicious aroma engulfed me I couldn’t help but salivate at the thought of what was to come. The intensely flavoured crunchy toasty bits of crispy rice at the bottom of the pot. I have always called that crunchy crispy rice ko-kla for the sound made when chewed but have recently learned that Ghanaians call it kanzo or emo asi which translates to rice-under or rice-bottom. All this time, I didn’t know it had a name. I thought rice-bottom was my own dirty little secret. Ko-kla is the reason I don’t have a rice cooker. It’s also the reason I prefer not to cook rice in a non-stick pot. Because of ko-kla I have mastered the art to regulate the heat to create that perfect crispy crunch without burning rice.
The Shame of Hiding In the Kitchen to Eat Rice-Bottom
A few years ago, I may not have had the nerve to write this post. To admit that when a pot of rice is cooked, whether plain, jollof, or waakye (rice & beans), you will find me in the kitchen scraping the crispy rice from the bottom of the pot to add to my plate.
At home, it was my mother that I had to share this “ko-kla” with. No one else really fought for it. In hindsight I can see it now. She secretly hoarding this rice for herself as the chef’s reward asking herself where this child, me, came from who won’t leave the “ko-kla” alone.
Meanwhile, I clearly remember cooking class in primary school in Berlin where rice was boiled and strained like pasta. I did not like that as it left absolutely no possibility for the creation of “ko-kla”. I also didn’t like that the rice was cooked only in water. No oil or butter. No sliced onions. No salt. Were I to cook rice for my husband in this way, I would certainly be returned to my family for not even knowing how to cook rice!
Being Served Rice-Bottom in a Restaurant
What made me proudly accept my status as a “pot scraper for crispy rice” was that I went to an Afghani restaurant one day and in the list of appetizers was a dish called tah-deeg (also spelt tahdig). It was described as “crispy rice from the bottom of the pot”. I was amazed. Here I was with a dark secret as dark as admitting I suck on bone marrow and chew bones to a pulp. Secrets I wouldn’t dare admit to in “proper company”. Here I was sitting in a restaurant with a menu offering me the delights of “crispy rice from the bottom of the pot”. Of course I ordered it! It came with a sauce and I enjoyed every bit of it. My date, a Senegalese man, sat amused at my excitement. Yes they too ate the rice at the bottom of the pot but he wasn’t as excited as I was by the idea of tah-deeg on a menu in a restaurant.
People Around the World Enjoy Rice-Bottom Too
This was several years ago but it got me thinking. If the Afghani can serve “ko-kla” as a delicacy, imagine what Ghanaians can do with jollof kanzo, waakye kanzo, or even plain white rice kanzo that is in butter or coconut oil with salt and onions. Imagine the possibilities?
Since then I have discovered that not only do Ghanaians and Afghani have a name for this delicacy, so do many cultures around the world. Pegao in Puerto Rico, hkaka in Iraq, concón in the Dominican Republic, koge in Japan, la raspa in Cuba, cucayo in Columbia, concolon in Ecuador, nooleung ji or nurungji in Korea, la soccarrat in Spain, com cháy in Vietnam, guoba in China, xoon in Senegal, and tutong in Philippines are all ways to describe the crispy, crunchy, bits of delicious rice at the bottom of the pot.
I am not alone. Hurrah! No longer will I hide in the kitchen to eat “ko-kla”! I will serve ko-kla on the dining room table, front and center! Why limit it there? I have to think big. Why not come up with a ko-kla franchise that serves all kinds of ko-kla. Thai fried rice ko-kla, cilantro-coconut rice ko-kla, Afghani style ko-kla, Ghana jollof ko-kla. Wow! The options are limitless. Crispy “ko-kla” rice-bottom will forever be in the spotlight and will never again be disrespected.