Cốm (young green rice) is a typical representative of the rice-growing culture of Vietnam. For centuries, it has been a popular dessert across Vietnam, especially in the North.
What is Cốm?
Cốm (not cơm which means cooked rice) is specially processed sticky rice grains with a sweet flavour. Authentic Cốm must be flat, lime-green, chewy, sticky and has the scent of green rice. Eating it plain is more recommended, though it can be served with coconut, banana and persimmon.
“Taking a pinch of com and savoring its naturally sweet taste feels like we are absorbing the fragrance of the immense green paddy fields of our ancestors” (Vu Bang – “Ha Noi delicacies”)
What dishes made with Cốm?
In addition, Cốm can be featured in many dishes such as Bánh Cốm (green rice cakes) with mung bean filling, Cốm Nén (Compressed Cốm) and Chả Cốm (Cốm Sausage). The green rice can also be made into Kem Cốm (Cốm-flavored ice-cream) or Chè Cốm (sweet dessert soup), and becomes a coating for fried food like fried shrimp coated with Cốm.
Where does Com appear?
Cốm plays an important part in Vietnamese culture. It is present in wedding ceremonies, ancestor worships, and becomes an appreciated gift to relatives and friends. There are also some Cốm-related festivals in ethnic minority groups such as “Giã cốm gõ máng” (The Muong), “Kin Lẩu Khẩu Mẩu” for wishing abundant harvest by the Thai, and Mah Quai for respectful offering rice to ancestors by the Kho Mu.
Cốm appears in all parts of Vietnam, but each region has its own recipe of making Cốm. In the North, people roast immature rice over very low heat then pound it in a mortar and pestle until it is flat. However, in the Central and Southern Vietnam, people make Cốm differently by roasting ripe sticky rice grains until rice kernels pop like popcorns and then mixing them with sugar and caramel malt (mạch nha).
The most famous Cốm is from Vong Village in Cau Giay district, about 8km northwest from the center of Hanoi. Cốm Vòng has stayed in Vietnamese people’s hearts for approximately seven centuries. Its recipe of making Cốm is confidential among family members. It is commonly known that the process of making Cốm in Vòng Village requires much meticulousness and skillfulness.
How is Cốm made?
At first, rice grains must be plucked by hand right at the moment when they begin to ripen and still contain milk. The rice grains are then carefully selected, winnowed, and washed. After that, the grains are slowly dry roasted in a large cast-iron pan over little heat from a wood burning stove. Next, portions of roasted grains are pounded in a mortar and pestle. After pounded for ten minutes, they are winnowed to remove husks and pounded again. This process is repeated for five times, and then based on the quality of rice, the villagers divide it into three types and pound it separately for another two times. Once finish, Cốm is stored in two layers of leaves: one layer is green leaves to preserve its color and freshness, and the other is lotus leaves for delicate fragrance.
Where to buy Cốm?
In Hanoi, besides Cốm Vòng, there are many other well-known brands such as Cốm Lủ and Cốm Mễ Trì. In the past, women who sold Cốm were usually dressed traditionally with turban, lotus leaf collar, carrying baskets with a bunch of lotus leaves to pack Cốm. But now Cốm can be easily bought at shops around Cau Giay district (Hanoi), particularly in Vòng Village.
Two recommended address for buying Cốm in Hanoi:
1/ No.36, lane 99, Xuan Thuy street, Cau Giay District, Hanoi.
2/ Lane 165, Xuan Thuy street, Cau Giay District, Hanoi.
For Cốm cakes, the best ones are available at shops on Hàng Than Street (Hanoi), one of which is Vĩnh Lộc shop where King Bảo Đại visited in the early 20th century and praised exquisite taste of the cakes.
Writer: Son Nguyen – Minh Nguyen