Finding Home in a Bowl of Vermicelli Rice

published Feb 18, 2023
Kitchn Love Letters
Vermicelli Rice Recipe

Rice gets cooked with ghee-fried vermicelli for a comforting and delicious Egyptian-style vermicelli rice.

Serves4

Makesabout 4 cups

Prep5 minutes to 10 minutes

Cook25 minutes to 30 minutes

Jump to Recipe
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Vermicelli rice in bowl with chicken skewer on side.
Credit: Mary Fawzy

We headed home with our plastic bag of hot food, rushing as the condensation started forming on the containers. I was excited to try take-away from a small Armenian restaurant for the first time — food from a country I knew very little about. For me, food was a way to start learning about another culture. I unwrapped the little cheese-filled samosa-like pastries and grabbed a plate for the minced meat skewers, which I know as “kofta” from my culture. I hadn’t realized that Armenian food would be so similar to Egyptian food, but I was seeing and smelling a lot of familiar things. When I took out the last container in the bag, I instantly recognized it as vermicelli rice, a simple staple that I’d grown up with. Reaching for a bite before anything else, immediate feelings of comfort rushed to my body and mind. It was so satisfying, I simply wanted to eat it on its own. 

My History with Vermicelli Rice

Because I grew up in one of the only Egyptian immigrant families living in Namibia and (then later South Africa), my mother’s cooking was my only connection with my heritage. While she sometimes made spaghetti and other types of cuisines, Egyptian food or “Egyptian takes” on different foods were the norm in our house. That means that eating meat was never without spices like cumin and cinnamon, and eating rice was never without vermicelli. I am not sure why or how this tradition started, but in Egyptian and other Arab cuisines, rice is cooked with a smaller serving of fried vermicelli mixed in. The little thin strands of pasta in this dish, named “roz bil shareya,” are seamlessly weaved into the grains of rice as though they were born to be together. I never thought anything of it — that was just how we ate rice. I only realized that not everybody cooked their rice with noodles when a friend came home with me one day and commented on how “interesting” it was. 

Credit: Mary Fawzy

How to Make Vermicelli Rice

Usually vermicelli, or broken-up angel-hair pasta, is fried in ghee until a deep toasty golden color. It can burn easily, though, so care is taken not to leave it going a second too long. Then rice, which must be washed (this is a non-negotiable step that I’d never admit to skipping in print), is added to the mixture and fried until it’s mixed well and slightly toasted before water (or stock) and salt are added to cook the rice. This rice is usually eaten with most dishes like grilled meat, stews, casseroles, and soups. 

Preserving Culture Through Food

When I left my parents’ home and moved to South Africa (then later to France), I didn’t take this recipe with me. For years, I made rice plain, and that became my new normal. When I missed my mother’s cooking, I always thought of the main dishes like “molokhia” (an Egyptian green leafy soup), mesaka’a (a baked aubergine dish), or her “goulash” (a meat-filled pastry). At times, I decided to make them myself when the homesickness became too much. But why is it that food is so much better when it’s made by a loved one or parental figure? I wasn’t trying to compete — I just wanted to create and have access to those same comforting feelings as eating my mother’s cooking. 

During a talk, I once heard the South African cookbook author Fatima Sydow say that when you cook, “the love” is actually the bacteria from your hands going into the food and that’s what makes it taste distinctly yours. Since that day I understood that I didn’t need to recreate my mother’s cooking, but rather focus on making something that’s good, and something that’s mine. As long as people feel love in my cooking, I’m doing well. 

Credit: Mary Fawzy

Clutching that bowl of rice from the Armenian takeout, I started to think that maybe I’d been cheating myself. Making elaborate dishes isn’t the answer — it’s taking the extra little step in the simpler ones. It’s the small additions, the side dishes, and the little tricks or secrets that each person adds to their cooking that is key to the whole experience of eating their food. Sometimes, it’s a squeeze of lemon, a pinch of a certain spice, or to remove the skins from the chickpeas (but that’s where I draw my line — I have limits!). It’s also in these little steps that we honor the thankless labor of our mothers and grandmothers. For me, I realized that adding vermicelli to my rice is important in attempting to preserve my cultural knowledge.

Now, having moved countries again, this time even further from home, I’m struggling to find simple ingredients that I’m used to. And as I try to find my place in a new environment, the concept of “home” has become somewhat hazy. I have to develop it again. But I managed to find vermicelli at the grocery store around the corner, and returning to a bowl of vermicelli rice is pretty close for now.

Vermicelli Rice Recipe

Rice gets cooked with ghee-fried vermicelli for a comforting and delicious Egyptian-style vermicelli rice.

Prep time 5 minutes to 10 minutes

Cook time 25 minutes to 30 minutes

Makes about 4 cups

Serves 4

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 1 ounces

    dried vermicelli or angel hair pasta (not rice vermicelli)

  • 1 cup

    long-grain white rice

  • 2 tablespoons

    ghee, unsalted butter, or olive oil

  • 2 cups

    water

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons

    kosher salt

Instructions

  1. Break 1 ounce dried vermicelli or angel hair pasta with your hands into rough 1-inch pieces (about 1/2 cup); you can also break it up still in the bag and then measure out 1/2 cup.

  2. Place 1 cup long-grain white rice in a medium bowl and add enough cold water to cover. Agitate the rice with your hands until the water is cloudy, then drain off the water. Repeat until the water isn’t cloudy anymore, 3 to 7 rinses. Drain the rice through a fine-mesh strainer.

  3. Heat 2 tablespoons ghee, unsalted butter, or olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the vermicelli or angel hair pasta and sauté, stirring often, until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Add the rice and sauté, stirring often, until the rice is glossy and sizzling, 2 to 4 minutes.

  4. Add 2 cups water and 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, and stir to dissolve the salt. Increase the heat to high and bring to a low boil. Cover, reduce the heat to the lowest setting, and let cook until the rice is tender, 16 to 20 minutes. Uncover and fluff with a fork.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 5 days.