Feb 08 2012

Saigon street food: Com tam

Published by at 7:06 am under Saigon street food


A few posts ago when I was talking about banh xeo, I brought up the fact that I have neglected to write about some of the common popular street dishes in Saigon that I take for granted. One such popular dish is com tam, a popular food for anytime of the day. It looks like a plain dish of rice, but looks can be a little deceiving.

There is broken rice under all the other stuff!

There is broken rice under all the other stuff!

Com tam is different from the normal rice dishes that you find on the street in that the rice that is served is broken rice. When rice is transported and processed, some of the grains break; the broken grains are separated from the normal grains and sold separately. Since the broken rice is smaller than regular rice it has a completely different texture — more like couscous than rice — which I personally prefer over regular rice.

The later you go, the less they have in their case.

The later you go, the less they have in their case.

On the street, a cart that sells com tam usually offers a variety of meats, eggs and vegetables to top your plate of broken rice. The most common meat served with com tam is grilled pork chop, or suon nuong. Other common toppings are shredded pork, called bi, and fried egg. Other meats can be eaten with com tam, like fish and prawns, but they are more of a rarity on the street.

The greens also vary; sometimes you will get a combination of cucumbers and tomatoes or pickled carrot, other times you may get a Vietnamese version of kimchi. The dish is then served with the Saigon staple of nuoc mam. A plate of com tam will fluctuate in price depending on your meat, starting at around 15,000 VND and topping out at 30,000 VND if you get both pork and a fried egg.

You know you've been in Saigon too long when this is an upscale joint.

You know you've been in Saigon too long when this is an upscale joint.

Com tam isn’t hard to find; it’s on most streets that have street food because it’s so popular. If you’re still put off by street carts, even though they’re pretty safe, there are a few more slightly upscale options where you can try the dish. Com Tam Moc is sort of a fast food rice option, like the rice version of Pho 24. It has air-con and protection from the elements, but the food isn’t quite as good as what you’ll find on the street and the prices are higher, more in the 40,000 to 50,000 VND range.

When I went through the city with the Back of the Bike Tours they took me to what I think is the best com tam restaurant in the city. Located in District 4, Com Tam Di Nam, has a huge variety of dishes, though I recommend the fish cooked in a clay pot, to enjoy with your broken rice — the prices here are closer to what you’ll find on the street.

Com tam is a strange dish; the first few times I had it I didn’t know that it was special. I had just kept preferring this one street stand over other rice spots then, when I was finally taken to a broken rice restaurant, I realised this was what I had been eating all along.

So, do keep an eye out for stalls making com tam. Pull up a stool and get yourself a plate; it will be different from any rice you have ever had.

Com Tam Di Nam
255 Khanh Hoi
T: (08) 3826 4381

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3 responses so far

3 Responses to “Saigon street food: Com tam”

  1. dat nguyenon 17 Feb 2012 at 11:53 am

    have you checked out com tam nguyen van cu? its across from ais. The de factor dish is w/ a massive piece of bbq pork. check it out and let me know if di nam is still #1

  2. Danielon 04 Sep 2012 at 7:24 am

    Oh no, com tam = my life. I would die without com tam. To me, traditionally, it’s more like a breakfast thing people eat in the morning. But now you can find places that serve Com tam 24 hours a day…. —> a happy me lol. The best part is the greasy green onion sauce that goes on top , it’s basically chopped green onion sauteed in the fat extracted from ….fried diced pork fat (It might sound …ugh but it tastes like heaven, even the fried pork cubes are so crunchy, I love em :) ! ) One of the most popular item you can get wiith broken rice is Eggloaf / Eggcake / Egg quiche – whatever you wanna call it. But it’s my favorite ! I love your blog! <3

  3. Ca La Hanon 07 Nov 2013 at 1:53 pm

    Do Quang Dau off Bui Vien has a very tasty late night Com tam option around 1am. Delicious!!

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