Broken rice, also known as Com tam in Vietnamese, is a signature dish of southern Vietnam. Locals can have com tam at almost any time of the day – breakfast, lunch, dinner, or even late at night, and almost everywhere – in upscale restaurants or on side streets from street vendors. This dish is simple, delicious, and inexpensive for those who prefer to sit along the busy streets and not miss a city beat by the passing traffic.
The Origin of Broken Rice (Com Tam)
The rice was actually what was left after the rice milling process, which made it a meal for the poor farmers who couldn’t afford whole grain rice. Now, its popularity spread to students and middle-class families in Saigon as well as other regions. Gradually, it became recognized as a signature dish of Saigon.
What Makes a Delicious Broken Rice (Com Tam)
Broken rice combines grilled pork chop, cold cuts, pork skin, and egg cake (otherwise known in Vietnamese as “suon, bi,cha”). To top it off, the meal is more delectable with a bowl of bitter melon soup. The melon is – as you may guess – bitter. The broth is fresh, peppery, and spoon-to-the-bottom good. This soup is an exceptional food that people usually have in Vietnamese Tet. In addition, the most crucial aspect of this plate is fish sauce. This creates a dish of flavorful rice with a little bit of everything – sweet, salty, and even spicy- if you want to add chili. The finishing touch includes a drizzle of scallion with oil.
The rice used to cook broken rice is not the typical Jasmine rice prevalent in Vietnamese daily meals. As the name suggests, it is broken (gao tam – tiny grain), as opposed to the pearly white rice grains. Broken rice is typically not as sticky and chewy as Jasmine rice, which gave the specialty dish its name.
The BBQ Marinated Pork Chop
In Saigon, you usually see a big piece of pork chop served on the dish. Before grilling, the pork chop is marinated in the savory and sweet BBQ sauce. There are also other grilled protein alternatives to choose from, such as grilled chicken, char siu (Chinese-style grilled pork), baby ribs, etc.
“Cha Trung” aka Steamed Egg
“Cha trung” is a side dish made from steamed eggs with meat and other ingredients like wood ear mushrooms. The soft texture contrasting with the chewy grilled meat creates a fun party of textures.
“Bi” or Shredded Pork Skin
The pork skin (“bi”) is cooked and shredded, then mixed with a fermented rice powder. The almost jelly-like, yet still chewy texture adds to the flavors of com tam.
Aside from the savory side dishes, the acidity from the pickles helps balance out the hearty proteins. The Vietnamese pickles are usually daikon and carrot, and vegetables are cucumber, lettuce, and slices of tomato.
Dipping Sauce (It’s Fish Sauce)
If BBQ-marinated pork chop is the centerpiece, the dipping sauce made from the fish sauce is the spirit of broken rice. The condiment is sweeter and thicker due to the added sugar. You can add fresh chilies to the sauce for a little kick.
To keep the dish moist and add extra flavor, green onion oil and crunchy pieces of fat are added. Some may not appreciate these little details, but some would feel that broken rice is incomplete without these ingredients.
Where to Eat Broken Rice (Com Tam) in Saigon
Com tam Kieu Giang
This restaurant has been well-known locally from generation to generation. Besides broken rice, it also has a wide range of other Vietnamese dishes.
Address: 192 Tran Quang Khai Street, District 1
Price: VND 30.000 – 50.000
Com tam Thuan Kieu
Talking about broken rice restaurants, we cannot miss Com tam Thuan Kieu. This brand is highly famous among high-class citizens and foreigners. It is renowned for its unparalleled dipping sauce, an essential element of any dish in Vietnam that determines the skills of a chef.
Address: 54 Thuan Kieu Street, District 11
Price: VND 30.000 – 100.000
Com tam An Duong Vuong
Address: 502 An Duong Vuong Street, District 5
Price: VND 50.000 – 100.000
Com tam Ba Ghien
This is among the most crowded broken rice restaurants. The restaurant has its own special recipe for BBQ-marinated pork chops. Consumers come there often to order a broken rice dish with a combo of pork chop, bi, and cha. This is the traditional combo of a broken rice dish, also the restaurant’s signature dish.
Address: 54 Dang Van Ngu Street, Phu Nhuan District
Price: VND 30.000 – 100.000
How to Order Com Tam (Broken Rice)
You’ve probably learned by now that the side dishes options for com tam can be overwhelming. The easiest option is to order “Suon, Bi, Cha”, which includes most of the standard proteins of the dish. However, since there are endless varieties to the dish, you can request the seller for “Ga Nuong” (grilled chicken), “Lap Xuong” (Vietnamese sausage), or “Trung Kho” (braised egg) instead of a sunny-side-up.
Summary of Com Tam (Broken Rice)
Broken rice, along with other street food in Vietnam, is among the must-try dishes in the world. It is not just about food but also about how you experience the city and the culture. For more street food experiences in Saigon, do not hesitate to contact us.