What is special about broken rice that makes it a specialty of Saigon?
Broken rice (Cơm tấm) is a famous and popular dish in Southern Vietnam in general and in Saigon in particular, which is made from simple ingredients but has a very unique flavour.
How does broken rice appear?
Saigon broken rice has long been considered a “hunger-saving” food for poor workers as the rice is small, hard to absorb water and especially cheap, which is very suitable to be used in their daily meals. Previously, this dish was almost exclusively for workers, poor farmers or students with a tight budget, but now, broken rice has become a specialty and is mentioned frequently across the country, especially in Saigon.
Broken rice is a typical street food of Saigon. Photo: foody.vn
In the past, Saigon broken rice appeared in daily meals and served on a tray with chopsticks, main dishes and side dishes. During that period, as the city was always bustling with foreigners from many countries around the world, the Saigon people modified the layout of this dish to be more eye-catching and suitable for both domestic and foreign people. Since then, broken rice and side dishes have been put on a large plate, together with spoons and forks like Western dishes (instead of chopsticks). Up to now, this way of presenting food and enjoying it remains unchanged and becomes a typical feature as compared to traditional dishes of Vietnam.
Saigon broken rice is presented beautifully on a plate like a Western dish. Photo: pinterest
What’s on a plate of broken rice?
A traditional plate of broken rice is composed of rice, grilled ribs, pork rind, steamed egg meatloaf and dipping sauce.
Broken rice is the tip of the rice grain that is broken off during the milling process, and this is the special point that makes it different from other types of dishes from rice. Traditionally, broken rice is best when cooked in an earthen pot or a cast iron pot on firewood, but today, to save time, many people often apply the steaming method. Before being cooked, the broken rice is soaked with water for a few hours until the rice grains are soft, then steamed until well-cooked. The aroma of cooked broken rice will surely leave you with a strong impression.
The broken rice is usually steamed so that the rice grains are not mushy. Photo: vntrip.vn
Steamed Egg Meatloaf
Steamed egg meatloaf, which is made from eggs, meat, wood ear, shiitake mushrooms and some seasonings, is usually steamed. After being cooked, it is usually cut into rectangular pieces or slices of pie.
Steamed egg meatloaf - a special dish in Saigon broken rice. Photo: Saigon cuisine
Pork rind is thinly sliced and then mixed with toasted rice powder. Photo: cookpad
Pork rind is cleaned, boiled, sliced, then added with some spices and especially toasted-rice powder to raise the aroma and make it more tasty.
Grilled rib cutlets
Grilled ribs are the secret to the “attraction” of this dish. Photo: kenh14.vn
Each restaurant has its own secret to grilling ribs, and this is also a highlight in the dish. Ribs are marinated with sweet and sour spices and then grilled on charcoal, and notably, this procedure is often carried out in front of the restaurant to attract customers.
Each serving of broken rice is served with a small bowl of dipping sauce, which is made of fish sauce, lemon, garlic, hot chili and sugar at an appropriate ratio to have a sweet and sour taste. A special feature in the way of enjoying the dish of the Saigon people is to sprinkle the dipping sauce on the plate of broken rice instead of dipping anything into the bowl of sauce.
The dipping sauce of broken rice. Photo: giavihanhphuc
When enjoying Saigon broken rice, you will be able to smell the fragrance of the grains of broken rice, the greasy taste of steamed egg meatloaf, the richness of grilled ribs, and the freshness of slices of cucumber and tomatoes. All of them blend together to create a unique flavour that you cannot forget.
The “breakthrough” in Saigon broken rice today
In the past, Saigon broken rice used to be a street food serving all types of diners, but today, you can find this dish in both stalls and luxury restaurants. The dish is also modified to become more diverse as compared to the traditional one. For example, they can add some other famous side dishes to the broken rice such as char siu, grilled spring rolls, lean pork paste and omelettes. Regarding the omelette, you can choose the type based on your preference such as soft-hearted or well-done omelette.
Broken rice has many variations with different side dishes. Photo: viettravel.vn
The excellent broken rice restaurants you should try in Saigon
Broken rice is a very popular dish in Saigon, so you can easily find it in a restaurant anywhere in this city. Here are a few excellent broken rice restaurants you can refer to:
Tu Map broken rice
- Address: 812 Su Van Hanh, Ward 12, District 10, Ho Chi Minh City.
- Price: VND 25,000 - 55,000/serving.
- Opening hours: 07:00 - 14:00.
Bai Rac broken rice
- Address: 77 Le Van Linh, District 4, Ho Chi Minh City.
- Price: VND 50,000 - 100,000/serving.
- Opening hours: 18:00 - 3:00.
Each broken rice restaurant has its own variation. Photo: mytour.vn
Ba Ha broken rice
- Address: 389 Hung Phu, District 8, Ho Chi Minh City, about 50m from Hung Phu market.
- Price: VND 20,000 - 30,000/serving.
- Opening hours: 16:00 - 19:30.
Ba Ghien broken rice
- Address: 84 Dang Van Ngu, Ward 10, Phu Nhuan District, Ho Chi Minh City.
291 Nguyen Tri Phuong, Ward 5, District 10, Ho Chi Minh City.
- Price: VND 40,000 - 66,000/serving.
- Opening hours: 08:00 - 21:00.
Nguyen Phi Khanh broken rice
- Address: 113 Nguyen Phi Khanh, Tan Dinh Ward, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City.
- Price: VND 25,000 - 50,000/serving.
- Opening hours: 10:00 - 23:00.
Broken rice has long been a typical dish for the simple and rustic features of Saigon people. When coming here, you should definitely try this dish at least once to enjoy its unique taste.