Peruvian Cuisine

A New Word and a New World all from Peruvian Rice

Concolón with Corvina Fish
Concolón with Corvina Fish (Dan Perlman, saltshaker.net)

A word found me the other day. I never had it to describe what it talked about even though I loved that food. And then, the word was there.

It’s a common one in parts of Peru while in other areas they have never heard it. Not only did it give me a way to easily talk about something I have always known, it also opened a whole new world.

The word is concolón. It describes the stuff that sticks to the bottom of your pan if you cook your rice too much. I think it can speak to more than rice, such as all kinds of stuff stuck to the bottom of your pan, but rice seems to be its main focus.

In some places they throw that stuff away, while in others people love it. Nevertheless, unless you are from Persia — where they deliberately make a crust on some rice and serve it upside down with the crust on top — you may have thrown it away as an error, a problem.

I know I liked it and would carefully scrape it up, loving its crunch and depth of toasted flavor. But that was, like, a secret.

I like going to Korean restaurants and getting the hot stone pot of rice because of the crunchy, toasty part that often forms agains the hot stone. It is my favorite part of the rice.

The friend from Lima who told me the word, said that she and her mother would often compete to see who could get the concolón. It was not served as part of the rice to their family, however. Gastón Acurio, filmed a couple of programs on concolón and,among other things, mentioned that if people really like you and know you they will serve you the concolón.

It turns out there is a minor food movement to prepare dishes relying on the notion of a toasted bottom which can become, when turned over, a base for serving other meats and stews.

Yum. The word still fascinates me, though, even if I want to go right now and make a pot of arroz con pollo, chicken with rice, just to get some concolón.

It turns out the word is mysterious. It is common in the central coast area of Peru, that is regions where there is an Afro Peruvian population. Most people I have talked to in Cusco do not know the word, even if they love the product sticking to their pots, unless they have spent lots of time in Lima or especially Callao, Lima’s port city and a separate province.

The word is also found in Panamá with the same meaning. In coastal Ecuador there is a similar word, but the concept does not make it to Colombia nor off of the coast. No one seems to know how and where it originated nor how come it is found in both Colombia and Peru, though this situation makes me want to speculate about Afro Peruvians and Afro Ecuadorians and what they have in common historically.

In this connection is an important point. The Afro Peruvian population came to Peru through Panama where they often spent time first. They were also connected, historically, with the origins of rice cultivation. Both of these things, Panamá and rice come together in the word concolón, but I am not going to assert this as true without a lot of serious research.

Now the fun part, and part of why I relate it to Afro Peruvian culture. There are a couple of cool and wide spread Afro Peruvian songs that speak about concolón.

One famous one by Alberto Garay Bolivar and sung by Lucila Campos goes “Don’t scratch the butt of that pot yet, don’t scratch the butt of that pot yet, because there comes my aunt and she loves concolón, because there comes my aunt and she loves concolón.”

Desire for something homy and good, mixes with erotic imagery, and racial and ethnic difference to make this a multiply suggestive song, but I will leave it to you to hear it and experience it for yourself, just as you will scrape that browned or even lightly burned stuff from the bottom of your pans now, call it concolón, and enjoy it, perhaps even swaying to the Afro Peruvian rhythms of the song.

The author of the words is from the port city of Callao, a hot bed of Afro Peruvian culture. Another song also comes from that lively and treacherous city of shipping and cultural formation. Called simply “Arroz con Concolón”, “Rice with Concolón”, it was written by a colorful figure, Juan Criado Delgado who not only was also from Callao, but also was a well known footballer and the goalie of the “U”.

The words are simple and yet complex with a picardía, an erotic spiciness, not unlike the earlier song. Its chorus relies on another typical word from Lima that is now the title of Gastón Acurio’s new book in Spanish about the disappearing cuisine of Lima, bitute or vitute. This word, as best I can tell, refers to a typical lunch.

Now the tag. “Arroz con concolón / con su vitute, ollita no más.” “Rice with concolón / with the lunch, only the little pot.” Simple but so difficult to really translate given nuances such as the ollita, from olla pot and the suffix -ita. It carries multiple meanings of affection, eroticism, size, dismissal even, and so on, that make it impossible to render in English.

When the chorus is sung, this two line phrase gets interspersed with “hija”, “my dear”. in a classic African call and response. But here it mixes the meanings as if stirring the pot or shaking your hips on the dance floor.

The main words are from a man seeking a bit of lunch while on his way to see is Samba, a black woman, maybe part indigenous, but delicious lower class and loving. The first verse is the asking and the second the leave taking. In the middle is the reduced “lunch” with concolón.

I am told that rice (arroz) carries the double meaning in Lima of a woman’s genitals, while olla, pot, refers to oral sex. It is a song about a delicious and homy food, at the same time it is about a side of sex in the afternoon with a bitute, lunch.

Once you know this word, and the fascinating AfroPeruvian tradition it stems from, replete with double meanings, it seems impossible to live without it.

Now I know. Now I know.

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