Keyword suggestions: Minh Long Contest Golden Spoon Awards

Saigon Has a Gem Called 'Com Tam'

Saturday, 01/20/2018 09:07
With its peculiar taste and scent, broken rice has long been considered a favorite by people of all ages and economic backgrounds in Saigon, and only in this city can its true flavor be found.

A special version of 'com tam' offered at a fancy restaurant on Vo Van Tan Street, District 3, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Tien Bui

Com tam, as the food is called in Vietnamese, basically refers to a rice dish whose main ingredient is broken rice, a kind of rice that seems to have been smashed by a crushing machine.

A single spoonful of the delicacy is well enough to strike one’s sense of taste dumb with satisfaction.

The spicy sauce adds not only to the aroma of the well-grilled pork and the smell of oily onions that are served along with the rice, but it also adds to the stiffness of the broken rice, creating a mixture of harmony, yet distinct with varied flavors.

Com tam suon trung: broken rice with grilled pork and omelet sold for VND22,000 (~US$1.00) at a university in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Tien Bui

An upgrade of ingredients

Com tam was originally consumed by the poor who could not afford to enjoy the more refined version of rice.

According to a TuoiTre News reader, decades ago the Saigonese had to rely on crude rice processing machines which damaged the final product.

The damaged rice that fell out, the broken rice, was collected by poor workers and turned into a basic rice dish for their daily existence.

Back then, com tam was just a dish consisting of rice, spicy sauce and oily onions.

But somehow, the dish made it to roadside dining places, food stalls at local markets, fancy restaurants, beyond the southern city, and even overseas.

Nowadays, com tam comes with a handful of options.

One can order com tam together with one, some or all of these: suon (grilled pork), bi (long slices of seasoned pork skin), trung (one or two omelets), and cha (meatloaf with egg yolk, mushroom, bean, meat and seasoning, sliced into small bars).

A typical dish of com tam contains a small portion of broken rice with some oily onions scattered on top, surrounded by suon, bi, trung, or cha, as mentioned above.

To vary the taste, the plate is accompanied by tomato and cucumber slices, some sour vegetable stripes, or by a small bowl of vegetable soup.

The spicy sauce, generally deemed key to com tam. Photo: Tien Bui

Tasty, healthy, and cheap

When asked about her preference for this specialty, Ho Nhu Yen, an early-twenty Saigon-based freelance teacher of English said, “I get to eat com tam once a week, sometimes by the roadside and sometimes in a food store.”

Commenting on her choice of com tam over other kinds of rice dish, she stresses that the taste is unparallel.

“But the important thing is com tam normally comes in small portions, so I’m not afraid of getting fat even when I have a plate late evening!” she added.

Many believe the key to the success of any com tam sellers is the recipe of their sauce.

Big restaurants might have a reliable source of pork and high quality ingredients, but some do not provide customers with the scent of sauce found elsewhere by the roadside.

Com tam, originally a food for the average-income laborers, still reigns in the street.

In fact, com tam made list on CNN’s top 40 Vietnamese delicacies as an appetizing roadside dish.

For VND18,000 - 30,000 (US$0.89 - 1.33), one can easily grab a plateful of com tam, both flavorsome and fulfilling.

People might also choose to pay more for a nicer and quieter place rather than the cheap roadside low tables and stools.

Some restaurants charge VND80,000 ($3.54) or more for a special serve.

A roadside com tam seller in District 4, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Tuoi Tre

Where to find the best ‘com tam’?

The capital of Hanoi, the central Vietnam city of Da Nang, and other provinces do offer com tam, but picky eaters will not find themselves satisfied, as the original taste from the southern metropolis cannot be duplicated.

Com tam is at its best only in Saigon for some reason.

On August 1, 2012, The Asia Record Organization recognized com tam Saigon (Saigon broken rice) amongst ten other Vietnamese dishes for their gastronomic value in Faridabad, India.

Some poets in Saigon have said that com tam has never made it into Vietnamese literature and poems, unlike other specialties like pho (Vietnamese beef noodle soup).

But what hype is needed if it is all in people’s minds and diets?

If the proof of the pudding is in the eating, then the proof of com tam is in its prevalence.

People go for com tam in the morning. To the Vietnamese people, especially those who work as manual laborers, a hearty breakfast empowers their fruitful morning.

What can better fill the stomach and energize the muscles than a plate of com tam?

Com tam offered by the roadside at Thi Nghe Market, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Tuoi Tre

Students, white-collar workers, children, the elderly, all enjoy the flavor of the renowned dish.

Com tam is also available for lunches.

But it is most popular in the evening hours. Com tam dem (night-time broken rice) is the sign hungry locals will look for every here and there on the streets.

It is child’s play looking for com tam, as it is omnipresent under the cover of darkness!

Visitors to Saigon cannot only try the taste of com tam at numerous street food stalls that are scattered all over the city, there are also restaurants such as Com Tam Cali or Com Tam Thuan Kieu who have specialized in serving the broken rice dish.

There might be thousands of great foods out there for the Saigonese living in a city blossoming with domestic and international cuisine, but at the back of their minds, they know well com tam is on the top list.

By Tien Bui / Tuoi Tre News

Write Comment Send Comment
0 Comment

Hot restaurants

Latin America's 50 Best Restaurants 2018 Top 10 In 10 Dishes

Latin America's 50 Best Restaurants 2018 Top 10 In 10 Dishes

Enjoy this gallery with amazing dishes from the top 10 restaurants of Latin America's 50 Best 2018, with chef Tsumura's Maido at number 1 for the second year.


Superstar Pastry Chef's 'Food Porn' Has Instagram Drooling

Superstar Pastry Chef's 'Food Porn' Has Instagram Drooling

When Cedric Grolet takes out his pastry knife, millions of mouths water.

Cuisine & Nutrition

Sauces and Herbs to Die For

Sauces and Herbs to Die For

Vietnamese dipping sauce and a huge variety of fresh aromatic herbs are the soul of the country’s cuisine.

© 2014 / All rights & Copyrights reserved.

Golden Spoon Awards