255 Khanh Hoi, District 4
T: (08) 3826 4381
Com tam is a popular food for anytime of the day in Ho Chi Minh City. It looks like a plain dish of rice, but looks can be a little deceiving.
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.
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.
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.
By Angela Schonberg
Last updated on 18th October, 2014.