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Six rice dishes you should try in Vietnam

VietNamNet Bridge – Travelling along the coast, tourists can taste famous rice dishes, from com lam of the northwestern region to com hen of the ancient capital city of Hue to com nieu and com tam of the southern region.

Com lam (rice in bamboo tube)

Six rice dishes you should try in Vietnam

It is rice, often glutinous rice, cooked in a tube of bamboo, served with salted roasted sesame, grilled pork or chicken skewers. 

The bamboo chosen should be fresh and young so that the new membrane inside the tube can wrap the rice, adding a special flavor, fragrance and sweetness. 

To prepare the rice, first fill the tube with about 80% of rice and 10 % of water, in favor of water inherent in bamboo, then adding a little coconut water to make the rice more pleasant; wrap the tube with banana leaves and then burn it on fire until it smells pleasant.

When it is done, the singed skin of the bamboo is removed, leaving a thin cover that is also peeled away when you eat. 

The fragrance of fresh bamboo, banana leaves and sticky rice as well as the sweet flavor of rice, bamboo, and coconut, and the saltiness of sesameor the great taste of grilled wild boar will induce guests to fall in love with “com lam”. 

A tube of “com lam” plus fragrant grilled wild boar taken with a sip of “ruou can” (literally “straw wine”) is enough for you fall in line with nature and people here.

This is the typical cuisine of northwest Vietnam mountain tribes such as Sapa, Mai Chau, Tam Dao.

Com Chay (Rice crust)

Six rice dishes you should try in Vietnam

'Com chay' (burned rice) is a simple but crispy dish of Ninh Binh province.

'Com chay' is made from steamed rice sliced into flat round shapes.

After drying, slices of steamed rice are fried in hot oil pan until they turn yellow and crisp.

Together with main ingredient, steamed rice there is beef, pig’s heart or kidney, mushroom, tomato, carrot and spices such as fish sauce, pepper, red chili, onion, salt.

Beef and pig’s heart or kidney are thinly sliced, marinated with spices and mixed with vegetables. Then the mixture is fried until fragrant.

The dish is best served with goat meat and Kim Son wine. Each bowl of 'com chay' is perfect combination of the crispness of yellow burned rice, oily taste of meat and the freshness of vegetables that wake up visitors‘ taste.

Com chay cha bong (Crispy rice cake with finely shredded pork floss and spring onion sauce)

Six rice dishes you should try in Vietnam

Com Chay Cha Bong is deep-fried steamed rice, topped with pork jerky, dried shrimp and chopped green onion. I

It’s one of the most popular snacks in South Vietnam. 

It’s easy to buy this food in the city because it’s sold in convenient stores, markets, supermarkets… 

The crispy deep-fried steamed rice and delicious pork jerky and dried shrimp will win your heart.

Com hen (rice with mussel)

Six rice dishes you should try in Vietnam

Com hen is the simple and low-priced specialty of Hue, the ancient citadel of Vietnam. Accordingly, the way of serving this special kind of food is of great simplicity and deliciousness.

Com hen has a sweet-smelling flavor of rice, onion, and grease, as well as strange tastes of sweet, buttery, salty, sour, bitter, and peppery-hot. 

You have to arrive to the Hen river-islet in the Perfume River to have the original Com hen. However, you can find the dish on some streets in Hue City. 

It requires 15 different raw materials to prepare the dish, including mussel, fried grease, watery grease, peanuts, white sesames, dry pancake, salted shredded meat, chilly sauce, banana flower, banana trunk, sour carambola, spice vegetables, peppermint, salad, etc.

Com hen is always attractive to many customers since it is tasty and, at the same time, economical.

What makes this simple kind of food popular is revealed in the great endeavor to adopt and process its main ingredient – mussel. 

Mussels are sea species, which must be dipped in water for a long while before being processed. Accordingly, people often say that com hen somehow expresses the strenuous work of the maker.

Where to find it? Very easy as it is popular everywhere in Hue andelsewhere in Hue restaurants in Vietnam. More favorably, it is a low-priced specially, thus you could eat it in luxury restaurants in Hue or even at mobile shops on the streets.

Hoi An chicken rice

Six rice dishes you should try in Vietnam

Hoi An chicken rice is very simple: in it’s most bare form, the recipe includes only rice, chicken, sauce and pickled carrots. But it is not easy to cook an exemplary chicken rice plate. 

You’ve got to visit the master chefs in Hoi An’s street-side eateries. Hoi An chicken rice houses tear their chicken meat into small pieces and then mash the pieces with crushed onions, Vietnamese coriander and other spices best absorb their flavors. 

The dish is then served up with very spicy chili sauce, pepper to slow the heart various coating mix chicken liver hard, extremely attractive. The springy chicken pieces and fragrant rice is decorated with peppermint, papaya, and salted onions. 

The spicy dish might burn your tongue a little bit, but it’s an essential part of the cultural experience in central Vietnam. The culinary style in this region is different than the sweeter tastes in the south and saltier dishes in the north. 

The best cooks use free-range chickens raised in countryside gardens, not the industrial factory-style birds. Poultry raised in the gardens is stronger and more springy, with a far richer flavor than the soggy stuff produced in “industrial agriculture” facilities.

The towns of Hoi An are the best place to try the dish. Hoi An even has its own cooking style that varies slightly from other central-region styles.

Com nieu (clay pot rice)

Six rice dishes you should try in Vietnam

For many Vietnamese today, com nieu does not always mean a modest life in the countryside. As fast food corrupts traditional diets, people are longing for a taste of home cooking.

For com nieu restaurateurs in Hanoi, this means business. Eating com nieu (rice cooked in small earthenware pots), which is served with various traditional Red River delta dishes, has become a popular trend among the nouveau riche in Vietnam.

The most common version is com nieu served with ca kho to, specially prepared fish in soya sauce with some herbs and in smaller earthenware pots.

Cooking com nieu is not as simple as it appears. Firstly, the rice must be perfumed rice (tam thom).

The restaurants offer their rice cooked three different ways: Medium, well-cooked to a yellowish brown colour, and rice so well-cooked it is nearly burnt.  Many customers prefer the half-burnt rice (which is almost impossible to cook with an electric cooker) and whatever they ask for, the restaurants can provide.

The best com nieu is cooked using straw for fuel, but that becomes impossible in Hanoi because the restaurants don't have enough space and the straw is very smoky.

But why the pots? The earthenware nurtures the food through the cooking process and keep it warm for a long time.

In addition, a colourful collection of vegetable soups and salads prepared in the countryside's style are on the menu in most corn nieu restaurants. The most famous are green cabbage cooked with fish, ginger and banana flower mixed salad.

On a typical com nieu menu, there are dishes ranging from roasted frogs to fried eels and river shell soup, not to mention tofu.

Com nieu goes particularly well with fish, which may take more than four hours to cook. Catfish, goby (a spiny fish) and climbing perch (a river fish) are bought from the suburban markets of Hanoi. 

After cleaning and gutting, the fish are marinated in a salt and soya sauce. Herbs, sugar and pork are then added and the whole creation is transferred into a clay pot and cooked slowly. The best fish is black in skin colour when cooked, and every bone must be as soft as the meat, which is slightly brown under the skin and white deep inside.

Higher levels of disposable income in Vietnam have changed people's eating habits. People eat out more, often ordering a huge amount of food, far more than they would ever be able to finish. But for some connoisseurs of authentic Vietnamese cuisine, com nieu provides a welcome break. And a chance to reflect on a bygone era of countryside-style home cooking.

Com tam (broken rice)

Six rice dishes you should try in Vietnam

Vietnamese broken rice is a dish made from fractured rice grains. It is also known as Com Tam Sai Gon (Saigon-style broken rice) that is served in the south of Vietnam, especially in Ho Chi Minh City. 

The main ingredient of this dish is broken rice. Broken rice, which is produced during milling, is a cheaper grade of rice because it contains less nutrient and fiber than unbroken rice. In America or Europe, this type of rice is mainly used in the food industry. In West Africa and South East Asia, it is used for human consumption.

Broken rice is usually served with grilled pork, pork ribs, fried egg or pork skin. Pork or pork ribs are marinated with sweet and sour sauce, then are grilled on fire. The smell of grilled pork is very attractive. Pork skin is sliced and mixed with fried rice powder and spices. In addition, greens and pickled vegetable with fish sauce are necessary for a good dish of Com Tam.

Com Tam is street food that you can easily have opportunity to try when you visit Ho Chi Minh City or any areas in the South of Vietnam. The prices of Com Tam are usually between 20,000vnd and 30,000vnd. Nowadays, people also have Com Tam with various ingredients for their lunch or dinner. Sometimes, you can find stalls or restaurants where Com Tam is served in the Middle or the North of Vietnam.

In early 2012, CNN mentioned Vietnamese broken rice as one of the most attractive street foods in Vietnam. On 1st August 2012, in Faridabad, India, the Organisation of Records in Asia recognized the food value of Saigon-style broken rice and nine other Vietnamese dishes.

Compiled by Pha Le