From the early days to the modern time, rice has become a truly soul of Vietnamese cuisine. Among them is there a very popular dish which can be easily spotted in almost every corner of Saigon – Com tam (Broken rice). Generally, Com tam is mostly preferred for breakfast, while some people may go for it at lunch or even dinner.
Originally, Com tam was a food for laborers in Southern Vietnam, but its rusticity and deliciousness quickly captured the hearts of Vietnamese people from countryside to city and from South to North, especially in Saigon. The cuisine is so popular that you can easily find a restaurant or food stall serving it anywhere in Saigon. Usually, you do not even need to look at the words written on its signboard; instead, it can be recognized simply by the smell or smoke of barbecue in front of the restaurant.
What makes it special?
In general, Com tam and family meals both carry the components of a typical Vietnamese meal which includes rice, meat, vegetables, and soup. However, Com tam has its unique point in the way that its rice is broken, while normal white rice in family meals is unbroken. Broken rice was usually the lower grade of rice produced by damage in milling; but actually it is as nutritious as unbroken one.
What are its components?
To make Com tam, broken rice is steamed, instead of cooked in water as unbroken rice. Com tam is usually served with grilled pork, bì or rolls.
Grilled pork, either ribs or shredded, is marinated with rich flavors (salty, sweet, and spicy) and mostly grilled over charcoal.
Egg meatloaf (chả trứng) is made from egg yolks, grinded meat, mushroom and rice noodles (vermicelli) mixed together and cooked in a bain-marie afterwards.
Bì is a mixture of thinly shredded pork meat and thinly shredded pork skin.
Sometimes, Com tam also goes with sunny-side-up fried egg (trung op la), easy to satisfy even the most fastidious customers.
In addition, fish sauce plays an important role in the deliciousness of Com tam. Making good fish sauce requires a great deal of meticulousness. Some restaurants heat raw fish sauce and put in a right amount of sugar to create a perfectly dense and sweet sauce. Some replace sugar with fresh coconut water for gently sweet fish sauce.
In a typical Com tam plate, there is a layer of white broken rice covered with meat and decorated with red tomato and green cucumber slices, carrot and radish pickles, over which is a layer of Sauté green onions with crispy pork fat. Accompany with it is there a little bowl of dipping fish sauce and more often than not, a bowl of soup.
Where to try it?
When it comes to Com tam, people usually think of Saigon. If you have travelled to Saigon, you may notice that the smell of grilled pork of Com tam lingers in any street. In Saigon, there are many well-known Com tam restaurants in both of pre- and post-liberation periods such as Thuan Kieu, Kieu Giang, Cali and Moc.
If you are happen to be in Saigon, do not forget to try this favorite dish of Saigonians!
Com tam Kieu Giang
– 63 Song Hanh, An Phu Ward, District 2, HCMC
– 192E Tran Quang Khai, District 1, HCMC
– 652 Xa Lo Ha Noi, Phuoc Long B, District 9, HCMC
Operating hours: 08:00 AM – 10:00 PM
Com tam Thuan Kieu
– 54 Thuan Kieu, Ward 4, District 11, HCMC
– 26 Ton That Tung, Ben Thanh Ward, District 1, HCMC
Operating hours: 10:00 AM – 11:00 PM
Com tam Ca Li
– 32 Nguyen Trai, Ben Nghe Ward, District 1, HCMC
– 449 Vo Van Tan, District 3, HCMC
Operating hours: 09:00 AM – 11:00 PM
Com tam Moc
– 85 Ly Tu Trong, Ben Thanh Ward, District 1, HCMC
– Food Court Bitexco Tower, 2 Hai Trieu, District 1, HCMC
Operating hours: 09:00 AM – 09:00 PM
Writer: Khanh Ngo – Son Nguyen