Don't forget to burn the rice

Yesterday was one of those rare clear, sunny winter days in Seattle so we headed out to the beautiful Madison Park neighborhood for some sunshine.

We ended up having lunch at a Korean restaurant and ordered the Bibimbap. When the waiter put down the sizzling, hot stone bowl he suggested waiting a while so the rice burns.

Now I’ve known about the Korean appreciation for crispy rice for some time. When I first learned about it I was amazed because Iranians have a similar obsession. We call this rice “tahdig” — and it is often the most treasured part of the meal. I was a very finicky eater as a kid, so I would usually pile my plate with several portions of tahdig and maybe a little khorest to appease my mom.

Thinking more about my amazement over the fact that both Koreans and Iranians have discovered crispy rice, I think I know why I find it remarkable. Crispy rice is surely one of those creations that happened purely by accident. I like to picture some ancient Persian hundreds of year ago accidentally burning the rice and while throwing out these parts decided to maybe have a taste. I’m completely making up this origin story by the way, but I can’t imagine tahdig not being an accident.

The remarkable thing in such a discovery is that this person kept their senses open and explored the situation after making a mistake. So often, when something goes wrong we tend to shutdown. We label the situation a failure and move as quickly as possible to clean up our mess.

It’s like jumping off the wrong subway stop in some foreign city. You can beat yourself up and anguish over the next 15 minutes you’ll have to stand on the platform waiting for the very next train. Or you can say “Well I’m here now. A corner of the earth I know nothing about. Is there something worth seeing?” You may find that you are in some non-touristy neighborhood and end up at a restaurant where you have the most treasured meal of your trip. (I share such a detailed story because this in fact has happened to me)

The point I’m making is that an optimistic orientation to the situations you face allows you to make counter-intuitive discoveries. In this orientation try to think about how rare a scenario is for yourself or even for all of mankind.

So it’s not “damn I got off the wrong subway stop”. It’s “I’m on vacation, there’s no rush, and I’m somewhere tourists never go, maybe there’s an adventure here?”. In reality more often than not, there’s not something there. But occasionally you find something and those things often are the most valuable discoveries.

How many cultures just blindly throw out burnt rice because no one has yet slowed down and explored the situation?

How many incredible discoveries are right in front of you unseen?

Don’t forget to burn the rice!

Photo credit: https://turmericsaffron.blogspot.com/2010/01/the-art-of-making-persian-tah-dig.html

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