Every country has its own round of comfort foods. For the Americans, a buttery grilled cheese does the trick while Brits find their solace in a bowl of curry or fish and chips with a side of mushy peas. For the Vietnamese, nothing says home like a plate of com tam (broken rice).
Farmers collect the fractured rice grains that broke during the milling and sell it for cheap.
- What is Broken Rice (Com Tam)?
- What’s in A Truly Authentic Com Tam Dish?
- Where to Find Broken Rice (Com Tam) in Saigon
- The Best Broken Rice (Com Tam) in Saigon
- How to Eat Broken Rice (Com Tam)
- Recipe – How to Make Broken Rice (Com Tam)
- Our Advice for Eating Broken Rice (Com Tam)
What is Broken Rice (Com Tam)?
Com tam, or broken rice, is an everyday meal made from broken rice grains. Once considered “poor people’s rice,” farmers would collect the fractured rice grains that broke during the milling and sell it for cheap. But over the years, the Saigonese became rather fond of the broken rice grains and today, its eaten all around Ho Chi Minh City.
Com tam is a pure gastronomic pleasure: barbecued pork on broken rice, topped with a fried egg and other accouterments. For locals, it is a delicious traditional dish but for foreigners, com tam is a quintessential Saigon experience.
Fun fact: many com tam restaurants are forced to break their own rice grains to be able to meet the growing demand for this dish. Com Tam Sai Gon (Saigon-style broken rice) is usually served with a caramelized pork chop, a bed of pickled vegetables, steamed egg cake (called trung hap) and garlic chive oil. However, most establishments will give you the option of customizing your order.
What’s in A Truly Authentic Com Tam Dish?
A delicious com tam plate of Saigon may include ribs, shredded pork skin, meatloaf, and eggs. It may vary depending on the diner’s preference but below are the most common components to serve with com tam:
- Rice: Vietnamese people often use fractured rice grains to cook com tam. In the past, this is a byproduct, being left over after the rice is filtered. The farmers couldn’t sell it so they use broken rice to feed poultry instead.
- Fish sauce: Eating com tam with sweet fish sauce is a must. The fish sauce is often mixed with water and has sugar added.
- Ribs: The ribs are often marinated with sweet and sour spice and then are roasted. Normally the vendors grill the pork in front of their stalls so the smell would attract bystanders.
- Meatloaf: including eggs, crab, minced meat, mushrooms, and vermicelli.
- Eggs: usually fried egg.
- Shredded pork skin: a mixture of many things, often including pork cut yarn, thread cutting pigskin and spices.
- Scallion oil: this is a liquid mixture made from scallions and oil sometimes mixed with fried greaves. It is a good way to add a nice aroma and some richness to a dish. The vibrant green color creates a nice color contrast too.
- Pickled vegetables: Pickled vegetables help by adding the appealing sweet and sour taste to com tam. They’re usually made from tomatoes, carrots, radish, cucumber, pickles and sometimes papaya.
Needless to say, this dish is surely a crowd-pleaser and definitely a go-to dish of many Vietnamese people whenever they run out of dinner or breakfast ideas.
Where to Find Broken Rice (Com Tam) in Saigon
Com tam can be found on almost every street corner in Ho Chi Minh City, and all around the country in fact. Most com tam joints are street stalls but more and more, com tam has been cropping up on the menus of high-end restaurants.
You’ll usually find com tam shops situated close to office buildings and schools, as it is typical for students and office workers alike to eat this dish during their lunch break and at the day’s end.
The Best Broken Rice (Com Tam) in Saigon
Check out this guide for some more nominees for great com tam in Saigon.
1/ Com Tam 3 Ghien
Travel out to District 3 and you’ll be rewarded with Com Tam Ba Ghien, arguably the most popular com tam restaurant Ho Chi Minh City has to offer. This joint is as local as they come, hidden down an obscure alleyway. My friend Phoebe grew up in this neck of the woods and would eat at this spot almost every day during her high school years. Even after she moved away from this neighborhood, her status as a regular customer still remains. She finds herself eating here once a week to this day. The reason why Com Tam Ba Ghien has amassed a legion of loyal fans is because the portion sizes are out of control. The grilled pork chop they cook up is a beast with the same circumference of a regular plate so you better come hungry!
After his experience eating at Com Tam Ba Ghien, food blogger Mark Weins of the popular blog Migrationology, concluded that the com tam at Com Tam Ba Ghien is “the Grand Slam of all Vietnamese Food.” Instead of eating Saigon-style broken rice, we special ordered a place of broken rice with caramelized pork chop, a fried egg, a loaf of steamed egg cake, and the garlic chive dressing mixed with bits of crunchy pork fat for some added texture. Their com tam is also served with a small bowl of broth; a small bowl of soup is a normal fixture in a complete Vietnamese meal.
See detailed review: https://migrationology.com/com-tam-ba-ghien/
This monstrous serving of com tam and soup is only 50,000 VND (about 2 USD)! Vietnamese pork chops, suon nuong, are traditionally marinated in a pool of fish sauce, sugar, lemongrass, and garlic, and are grilled on high heat so that the char crusts seals in all of that savory goodness. The fried egg at Ba Ghien is always runny, adding another layer of flavor when broken over the pork chop and rice. If you want to do as the locals do, make sure the rice is soaked in the runny egg yolk. The most interesting aspect of the dish was the steamed egg cake, trung hap, which tastes like American meatloaf even though it is purely vegetarian. The cake is a concoction of whipped eggs mixed with sliced wood-ear mushrooms and cooked rice vermicelli that are then steamed, giving the eggs a silky and fluffy texture.
Com Tam Ba Ghien has had a long career, operating for more than 20 years, but until now, it is still enchanting natives and foreigners for its renowned rib steak.
The ribs here are huge and fills a whole plate of broken rice and are always very thick.
- Address: 84 Dang Van Ngu, Phu Nhuan District
- Price: 40,000 VND – 50,000 VND
- Opening time: 8 AM – 8:30 PM
- Fanpage: https://www.facebook.com/ComTamBaGhien/
2/ Com Tam Bui Sai Gon
This place is very authentic, so expect a local experience. The food quality will not disappoint and a ticket to tasting heaven here may cost you about 30.000 – 55.000 VND. The com tam here is so excellent that it makes hundreds of diners keep coming for more.
The ribs here are huge and fills a whole plate of broken rice and are always very thick. However, the meat is tender and moist, and every bite is sent from heaven. No one knows exactly what they put in the pork but only by looking at the enormous number of clientele, you can tell that this place is surely doing something right.
So get here early, while the ribs are still hot and the grill is still smoking. Bui Sai Gon Broken Rice offers diners a kind of dining atmosphere which is among of the greatest joys of living and eating in Vietnam.
- Address: 100 Thach Thi Thanh, District 1 or 164 Cong Quynh, District 1
- Opening hours: 6h30 – 23h30
- Fanpage: https://www.facebook.com/buisaigonhcm
3/ Com Tam Cali
Another site also highly praised by food-lovers is Com Tam Cali. This place is more of an upmarket restaurant so rest assured that you’ll receive the best service. The staff are helpful and the food is even greater, which might be the reason why Com Tam Cali has never lost its position in the hearts of discerning foodies looking for high-quality meals.
Com Tam Cali is a combination of the quintessence of Vietnamese tradition and the modern break of a Vietnamese who is far from home, passionate about food. From traditional cooked broken rice to fragrant crispy burnt broken rice. From traditional pork ribs to unique ribs and a variety of side dishes. Com Tam Cali restaurant system with fancy dishes, always gives diners the taste of traditional broken rice combined with very interesting modern features.
236 Le Thanh Ton, Ben Thanh Ward, District 1
82 Nguyen Van Troi, Ward 8, Phu Nhuan District
310 Xo Viet Nghe Tinh, Ward 21, Binh Thanh District
125 Nguyen Chi Thanh, Ward 9, District 5
48 Nguyen Hue, Ben Nghe Ward, District 1
449 Vo Van Tan, Ward 5, District 3
235 Hoang Dieu, Ward 8, District 4
278 Pham Ngu Lao, Ward 7, Go Vap District
850 Ta Quang Buu, Ward 5, District 8
SC Vivo City, 4th Floor, Tan Phong Ward, District 7
Crescent Mall, 5th Floor, Ton Dat Tien, Tan Phu Ward, District 7
Parkson Hung Vuong Shopping Center, 3rd Floor, Ward 12, District 5
Vincom Mega Mall, 4th floor, Thao Dien Ward, District 2
Landmark 2, Vinhomes Central Park, Ward 22, Binh Thanh District
303 Phan Xich Long, Ward 1, Phu Nhuan District
87E – 87D Nguyen Thi Nho, Ward 2, District 6
Vincom Sky Center, 10 Pho Quang, Ward 2, Tan Binh District
Gigamall, 5th Floor, Pham Van Dong, Hiep Binh Chanh, Thu Duc District
- Opening hours: 10h – 21h
- Fanpage: https://www.facebook.com/comtamcali.official
- Website: https://comtamcali.com/
4/ Com Tam An Duong Vuong
Though not as cheap but surely worth every dong, the com tam you find at Com Tam An Duong Vuong is one of the best places in the city to get your fill.
Com Tam An Duong Vuong is packed during lunch hours but the orders come out quick. Dinner is the same but they usually run out way before closing time at 8:30 PM so come early.
- Address: 500-502 An Duong Vuong Street, District 5
- Opening hours: 6.30h – 21h
5/ Com Tam Thoi Ke
When it comes to a vegetarian option of com tam, be sure to check out this restaurant. The place has a quite unique name which literally means “whatever”. In addion to vegetarian com tam, you can also find vegetarian versions of a wide array of Vietnamese traditional food such as pho, mi quang, bun bo hue, etc.
The dipping sauce is perfectly made to suit everyone’s taste and the food is surely abundant, covering a whole big plate so you know your money is well spent.
- Address: 829 Le Hong Phong, District 10
- Opening Hours: 9h – 21h
How to Eat Broken Rice (Com Tam)
Com tam is eaten using a fork and spoon, the preference of most Southeast Asian countries when it comes to utensil combos. It might feel strange eating a slab of pork without a knife but trust me when I say that pork is so soft, your spoon will be able to easily slice through the meat. Spear the chunk of meat with your fork and then shovel the broken rice with your spoon.
Com tam is usually drenched in nuoc cham, the quintessential fish sauce condiment in Vietnam, but in my opinion, the pork chop is salty as is, so just pour the nuoc cham in little amounts so you don’t overdose on Sodium.
Recipe – How to Make Broken Rice (Com Tam)
For the pork chop:
- 2 pieces of 500g pork chop
- Fish sauce
- Soy sauce
- Vegetable oil
- Garlic minced
- Minced lemongrass
For the meatloaf:
- 40 g bean thread soaked in warm water and chopped
- 4 eggs
- 1/2 cup dried wood ear mushrooms 20g
- 200 g minced pork
- 3 teaspoon shallot finely minced/crushed
- 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon fish sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 3 cups broken rice
- 1 medium tomato
- 1 cucumber
- 1/2 cup pickled radish and carrots
- 1/4 cup scallion oil
The steps for making com tam are quite simple and straightforward. In short, the whole procedure of making com tam with meatloaf can be summarized in 6 main steps as follows:
Step 1: Cook the rice
Wash the broken rice a few times until the water becomes clear. Add boiling hot water to barely cover the rice and press to cook in a rice cooker.
Step 2: Marinate the meat
Combine garlic, minced lemongrass, soy sauce, fish sauce, honey and vegetable oil in a large bowl. Mix well. Dip the pork chop in the mixture and set aside for at least 1 hour or leave them overnight in the fridge.
Step 3: Grill the meat
Before grilling the pork, spread cooking oil onto both side of the meat to prevent it from drying out. And remember to spread the mixture soup on the pork chop surface occasionally when you’re grilling them. Avoid flipping the ribs too many times. The cooking time may vary depending on the thickness of the pork chop but you want to reach that beautifully appetizing brown-yellow color.
Step 4: Prepare the meatloaf
Crack 4 eggs into a bowl, put aside 2 yolks and mix the rest well. Beat the eggs and add the minced wood-ear mushroom, chopped bean threads, shallots and meat. Add salt, pepper, fish sauce and vegetable oil for seasoning.
Step 5: Cook the meatloaf
Pour the egg mixture into the tray, steam for 30 minutes. Then open the lid, beat the egg yolk and coat it on the surface of the meatloaf. Steam for another 2 minutes, uncovered, to achieve a beautiful meatloaf with a yellow surface.
Step 6: Assemble the dish
To complete the dish, scoop a broken rice spoon, add pork chop, cucumber and tomato slices for garnish, pickled daikon and carrots. Top with some scallion oil. Serve with a bowl of Vietnamese dipping fish sauce.
- Ribs with fat are softer and sweeter. You can select the rib cutlet with bone or lean back loin or bacon.
- Coke can help break down the muscles of the meat and make it tenderer. It can also bring an interesting sweetness to the dish. Milk/papaya oil/orange juice are also great alternatives to soften the pork ribs. Be sure not to overuse the softening ingredients or else the meat could become mushy.
Below are 5 of our favorite places to eat com tam.
Watch more videos on how to cook broken rice
Source: Helen’s Recipes (Vietnamese Food)
- Rinse and soak the broken rice for about 20 minutes before cooking. Cook the rice in a rice cooker with a portion of 1 cup of rice and 1.5 cups of water.
- Marinate chopped pork in sugar, honey, fish sauce, salt, red onion, pepper, and garlic. Let the chopped pork sit for a few hours or overnight in the fridge. Then, grill the chopped pork over charcoal.
- Egg cake is made of a mixture of minced pork, egg, soaked rice vermicelli, wood ear mushroom, spring onion, sugar, fish sauce, and pepper. Steam the mixture for 30 minutes. Open the lid and crack an egg yolk on the surface. Continue steaming for another five minutes.
- The fish sauce is cooked with sugar until it becomes pasty, with a portion of 5:2. Then, mix the fish sauce with lemon juice, water, garlic, and minced chili.
Our Advice for Eating Broken Rice (Com Tam)
The best time to eat com tam is during a jam-packed day when you’ll only have time for one meal.
Broken rice is eaten as a normal lunch and dinner entree but it’s a very hefty meal so don’t expect to do some marathons after this. The best time to eat com tam is during a jam-packed day when you’ll only have time for one meal. It will hold you over and give you the energy you need to take on a long day. Just make sure to keep hydrated while you’re eating com tam because especially on a hot day in Saigon, the heavy intake of sodium will heighten the risk of dehydration.
We hope you get the chance to visit at least one of these joints because having a good com tam while in Vietnam is a must. Let us know how your experience went!
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