*Updated 5/31* This week I found myself, yet again, at a kabobi. Nothing nourishes my soul to give me a reminder of some good home-cooking like some kabob. As I was placing my standard order of koobideh with rice and house doogh, I realized the guy taking my order was giving me a look- a look that I understood because I was giving him the same look. Alas it wasn’t a love-at-first-sight look, but rather a is s/he, is s/he not look. Then he asked me, “Would you like some tadig?” I answered, “Oh yes! If you have some.” And then came the question we had both been wondering. “Shoma Irooni hastid?” Are you Iranian? “Baleh. Oh, you are Iranian, too.” He told me he wasn’t sure if I was, but as soon as I said I wanted tadig, he knew I had to be. What’s the lesson to be learned here? Would you like tadig? is code for Are you Iranian?
Tadig literally means bottom of the pot, (tahe-dig). It’s the golden, crispy layer of the rice that burns on the bottom. I would venture to say that it’s impossible to find anyone who doesn’t like it. When I was in high school, I had an American friend who was fairly familiar with Iranian food because his brother-in-law was Iranian. Anytime he came over, my mom always had a plate ready “for Robert, because I know he loves tadig.”
Anyone will tell you that when there is good tadig on the table, it becomes the Hunger Games, Lord of the Flies, or Battle Royale. Because, you see, no matter how much rice you make, the amount of tadig is limited. It’s no wonder that tadig is the first thing to go at any Iranian dining table.
A few years ago, my cousin and his wife invited us for lunch. As it happened, his grandmother and my grandmother were both sitting at the corner of the table with the plate of tadig between them. It was the good kind too- perfect color, just the right amount of crispy. (There is nothing worse or more disappointing than limp tadig.) We kept passing the dishes back and forth, but somehow the tadig never made its way across the table. I kept waiting, thinking any minute now. But I noticed these two grandmothers kept nibbling on the tadig without offering it to anyone else. I didn’t have the nerve to ask my grandmother for some. I figured, out of respect I shouldn’t. And so slowly a rage began to build inside me. Why aren’t they passing the tadig? Are they seriously just going to keep it and eat it all themselves? It’s bad for their teeth! How are they even chewing it? There are only a couple of pieces left! They really aren’t going to pass it! They aren't even putting it one their own plate. They are just eating off the plate. That is so rude! My inner monologue continued. To this day, I have no idea what I ate at that meal. And there was a feast! But my eyes only saw the mouth-watering tadig that I never tasted. My aunt once told me that she gets angry when there is tadig, but she doesn't get any. She starts to resent people. I then shared this story with her, relieved that somebody else shared my sentiment. I'm confident now that many others out there also suffer from tadig rage.
There are different kinds of tadig. The most basic and common kind is simply with rice. However, often when there are left over pieces of bread, Iranians will put it under the rice in the pot and make bread tadig. And yet another kind is potato tadig. This is my second favorite after the basic rice kind. You just arrange the potato slices and put the rice over it. The rice fills the gaps between the slices, so all the potatoes stick together.
Though it may sound blasphemous to Italians, Iranians make spaghetti (macaroni, in Persian) the same way they make rice, by steaming it. Therefore, they also have spaghetti tadig which actually looks quite pretty with the strands spiraling around each other. Because spaghetti tadig can be so tough to chew though, the tendency is to make potato tadig with spaghetti.
You won't find tadig on any menu, but the next time you are at an Iranian restaurant, just ask for some! You are sure to understand this love of tadig once you try it.