I love crunchy rice. Not uncooked rice, but that wonderful golden crust that forms at the bottom of a hot pan or pot when making rice. Korean people call it nooroongji (누룽지), and it’s delicious in any form, Korean or not. Nooroongji is key in dolsot bibimbab (돌솥 비빔밥, bibimbab in a stone pot), paella (nooroongji is referred to as soccarat in Spanish), and also in bo zai fan, Chinese clay pot rice. Recently, I had some really great bo zai fan with lots of crunchy browned rice at A-Wah, a tiny restaurant with only a handful of tables in Chinatown.
At A-Wah, the meal began with a small bowl of soup on the house. If you aren’t Asian, the waitress may ask you first if you want soup. She did this to a white guy sitting at a table across from us. The reason being, I don’t think it’s something everyone will like. Flavored with ginger and ginseng, the thin soup tasted slightly bitter and medicinal. Personally, I liked it. I found it fragrant and soothing. David just found it medicinal. I’m not sure what the white guy thought.
After the soup, David’s order of Buddha Supreme Pan Fried Noodles ($7.95) arrived at the table. I usually like pan fried noodles with seafood, but this vegetarian version was quite tasty.
Although more interesting vegetables would have been appreciated over the generic broccoli and carrots, the thin egg noodles were fried really well so they remained crunchy under the thick sauce, which by the way wasn’t overpoweringly soy sauce heavy as it is at most restaurants. I’ll be ordering this again the next time I go, with or without David.
After I had a good share of David’s noodles, the waitress brought my bo zai fan, Minced Pork with Squid Rice Casserole ($6.25). The minced pork with squid was in patty form over the rice, and although it could have been more generous in comparison to the amount of rice in the clay pot, it was good. Steamed with the rice, there’s wasn’t any char on the meat, but it was soft and pliant like a pork version of hamburger steak with chewy squid chunks and crunchy diced water chestnuts.
The best part, however, was the scrumptious browned rice at the bottom. Again, the patty was small in proportion to the rice, but I didn’t really mind it because of the delicious crunchy bits. Drizzled with bo zai fan sauce, a thick sweet sauce made from dark soy sauce, I was in crunchy carb heaven. For those not satisfied with less meat than rice, extra protein in the form of roast meats, sausage, or egg can be added to any of the clay pots for a few more dollars.
I’ll be making another trip to A-Wah soon. Especially now with the colder weather creeping up on us, I’ll be going when I need a little warmth and a lot of crunch.
5 Catherine Street (b/n Division St & Broadway; map)
New York, NY 10038