People often ask what I do on my day off. On that rare occasion when I do find myself with some free time, I always spend it looking for some good food.
It was on one of these days that someone suggested we go eat com tam. It was a good idea. I love rice, especially broken rice, and decided it was about time I revisited a popular com tam place called Com Tam Thuan Kieu. This restaurant has several locations throughout the city, but on this day I opted for their main one on Thuan Kieu Street in District 11. Com Tam Thuan Kieu has been around for years — the first one opened its doors prior to 1975, and has remained popular since.
Com tam is traditionally a cheaper grade of rice that is formed when regular rice is damaged during the milling process. It used to be eaten mainly in the south, but today it’s popular throughout the country.
Com tam is usually served with suon nuong (thinly marinated grilled pork chop), bi (shredded pork mixed with thinly cooked shredded pork skin), pickled vegetables, cha trung (pork egg patties), lettuce leaves, tomato, cucumber, two fried eggs (sunny side up), all topped with scallion oil and nuoc mam.
Although the rice is broken, it has a very distinct taste and aroma, sort of like an Asian version of couscous or tabbouleh. But the grilled pork chop and nuoc mam are what make or break a good com tam. The chop should have a smoky and caramelised flavour, a perfect compliment to the broken rice.
Com Tam Thuan Kieu is a bright, spacious and clean place packed with locals. As you walk in you will find selections of food items that can be either eaten there or taken away. Their menu offers 54 different dishes to reflect 54 different ethnic groups in Vietnam, including a selection for vegetarians. Service is friendly, efficient and always quick.