Vietnamese Broken Rice (Com tam) is a type of white rice that is commonly served with many symbolic Vietnamese dishes. If you are on your Vietnam travel, you will most likely come across this rice plate with grilled meat, egg meatloaf, salad, and pickles.
1. What is Vietnamese broken rice?
Vietnamese broken rice, or com tam in Vietnamese, is one of the most iconic Vietnamese foods. "Com" means cooked rice, whereas "tam" means broken rice grains. As the name suggests, broken rice is rice that has been "broken" or fractured during the milling process. Broken grains are separated from whole grains and sold as "broken rice". Except for the fact that the grains are fragmented rather than whole, there is nothing wrong with broken rice.
Because Vietnamese broken rice is basically white rice, they taste all the same. Also, because of the shorter grain length, the texture of broken rice can vary depending on how it is cooked. Vietnamese broken rice has a nutty, risotto-like texture when cooked with little water. When cooked with enough water, the rice becomes fluffy and sticky, similar to glutinous rice.
2. What is included in a dish of Vietnamese broken rice?
Typically, a Vietnamese broken rice plate is served with grilled meat, egg meatloaf or sunny-side-up egg, tomato, lettuce and cucumber salad, carrot and radish pickles, and a generous amount of fish sauce.
2.1. Rice (Com)
The type of rice for making Vietnamese broken rice is the head of the rice grain that is broken off during the milling process. Traditionally, broken rice is best when cooked on an earthen pot or a cast iron pot on firewood. However, nowadays, to save time, people often steam the rice instead. Before cooking, broken rice will be soaked with water for a few hours until the rice grains are soft. The rice is then steamed in water until it is cooked. The aroma of cooked broken rice is absolutely unforgettable.
2.2. Pork ribs (Suon heo)
Each region has its own way to grill pork ribs. This is also a unique feature in the flavor of Vietnamese broken rice in different cities. People will marinate pork ribs with sweet and sour spices, then grill them on charcoal stoves. Many chefs grill the ribs right at the restaurant’s entrance to attract diners. After being grilled, the ribs slowly absorb the rich spices, giving off a tasty aroma. The meat is golden and crispy on the outside but soft and sweet on the inside, bringing a special flavor to Vietnamese broken rice.
2.3. Steamed egg rolls (Cha trung cuon)
Another important part of a Vietnamese broken rice dish is steamed egg rolls. They are made from pureed pork mixed with eggs, rice vermicelli, wood ear mushrooms, green onions, and spices and then steamed. In addition, the dish has an extra layer of egg yolk on top, making the patty not only eye-catching but also more aromatic and softer. After being cooked, steamed egg rolls are usually cut into rectangular or round pieces.
2.4. Shredded pork rind (Bi)
Shredded pork rind is made from a mixture of different ingredients, including pork rind and dried ram, which are boiled and cut into small pieces, then mixed with spices such as monosodium glutamate, fish sauce, garlic, etc. After that, the dish will be mildly fragrant and chewy. Shredded pork rind is the best ingredient to be served with egg rolls and ribs.
2.5. Pickles and vegetables (Dua chua)
A Vietnamese broken rice dish must have some pieces of cucumber, tomato, and pickles made from carrots, white radish, spicy sauerkraut, kimchi, or papaya. The pickles and vegetables will create a sour taste and balance the flavor of Vietnamese broken rice.
2.6. Scallion oil (Mo hanh)
Scallion oil is made by pouring boiling oil into chopped scallions. Some restaurants may even mix it with greaves, creating a delectable taste for Vietnamese broken rice.
2.7. Dipping sauce (Nuoc cham)
Dipping sauce can be considered the soul of Vietnamese broken rice. A bowl of delicious dipping sauce includes fish sauce, lemon, garlic, chili, and sugar. Depending on the preference of each region, the dipping sauce will be prepared in many different ways. A special way of eating Vietnamese broken rice of the people of Saigon in particular and the Southern region in general is to sprinkle the dipping sauce on the dish and enjoy it, rather than dipping it into the bowl of sauce as usual.
Coming to Vietnam, you can easily find a place to enjoy Vietnamese broken rice such as in Ho Chi Minh City, Phu Quoc, Nha Trang, Hoi An, Da Nang, etc. For each destination that you intend to go to, you should plan in advance where to stay to have the best accommodation experience after exploring Vietnamese cuisine.
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Vietnamese broken rice is known as an appetizing culinary dish which is delicious and full of nutrients. It has long become a typical delicacy that shows the idyllic and rustic features of Vietnam. Don’t forget to try it on your trip to Vietnam to see the uniqueness and deliciousness of the broken rice!
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