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This Vietnamese broken rice recipe is for a simple to make iconic Saigon food. Full of flavor, the soft and fluffy broken rice with grilled pork chops and an outstanding fish sauce will excite your taste buds.
What is Broken Rice?
Broken rice as the name suggests, are rice grains that are damaged during harvesting, milling or transportation.
While there is nothing wrong with the broken gains, they are deemed inferior and considered low grade because they are not perfect grains.
Due to the different shapes and sizes of the rice, broken rice has a softer texture compared to “unbroken” rice and absorbs flavors easily. It also cooks faster making it a popular choice for rice dishes that need long cooking times.
In Vietnam, broken rice or cơm tấm is arguably the most iconic Saigon street food. The word “cơm” refers to cooked rice while “tấm” refers to broken rice grains.
Traditionally, com tam is eaten with pork chops, shredded pork or pork loaf. Restaurants will also serve a small bowl of nuoc cham or dipping fish sauce, the indispensable accompaniment.
Discovering Broken Rice in Saigon
While com tam is available throughout Vietnam, the dish takes on special significance in Saigon. Considered the city’s dish, com tam is also referred to as “Cơm Tấm Sài Gòn”.
While walking around the streets of Ho Chi Minh City, we noticed many street stalls with a “Com Tam” sign. No matter the time of day, morning, noon or night, there were always locals eating com tam.
One of our most enjoyable experiences in Saigon was learning how to make com tam. In a fun cooking class, we not only made com tam from scratch, but also learned about its deep history and cultural significance.
Broken rice or com tam we learned, is only one of several rice varieties in Vietnam. Once considered of lesser quality and a “poor man’s rice”, its status has evolved.
Com tam has become a popular ingredient amongst chefs and used in many Vietnamese dishes.
The secret we learned to successfully cooking com tam was to use an equal ratio of water to rice. And, no more!
History of Vietnamese Broken Rice or Com Tam
“The rice grain is the pearl of heaven”Vietnamese Proverb
In Vietnam, rice is a symbol of life. It is known as a “the pearl of God” and it forms the basis of all Vietnamese meals.
There are many varieties of rice that exist that vary in taste, texture, color, and aroma. In addition, rice is also the basis for food products like rice paper, rice noodles, rice wine, rice vinegar and more.
The Mekong Delta in the south is the biggest rice-producing region in Vietnam. It is often referred to as Vietnam’s Rice Bowl.
The history of broken rice is said to have begun with poor rice farmers in the Mekong Delta. It is said the farmers started eating the broken rice grains because they could not sell them.
They soon developed a taste for it and with urbanization brought the dish to Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City. Economic reforms in the 1980s and growth in rice production, meant broken rice remained available and accessible.
As the economic situation in Vietnam improved, cơm tấm stalls opened up all over. Eventually, com tam became a much loved local food crossing economic boundaries.
Today, com tam is recognized as the signature dish of Saigon. It is usually served with grilled pork chop or “sườn nướng”, shredded pork skin, or egg.
The rice and pork are typically accompanied by slices of fresh tomato, cucumbers, and radish.
READ MORE: 15 Local Foods Not To Miss in Saigon
Where To Buy Broken Rice
The easiest place to find broken rice is at the Asian grocery stores in your area. When you make it to the rice aisle, don’t be surprised to see it packed in large 5 lbs bags or larger. Keep in mind, rice is the important dish in Asian cooking.
The most widely available broken rice is Jasmine broken rice from Thailand. This is simply because Thailand is one of the world’s largest exporters of Jasmine broken rice.
Despite being from Thailand, you can still use it to make your Vietnamese broken rice dish.
Broken Rice Price – Cost of Broken Rice
Broken rice is one of the most beloved dishes in the south of Vietnam. Interestingly, what started as a “poor man’s” inexpensive rice is now incredibly popular across all social classes.
With its popularity broken rice prices are in some cases more expensive than regular long grain rice.
You can get a 5 lb bag of broken rice for under $15.00 compared to about $10.00 for long-grain rice.
Carolina Gold Rice – Broken Rice in The American South
Broken rice is not just a Vietnamese phenomenon. We also learned about broken rice while exploring Southern cuisine in South Carolina.
In a conversation with Chef Parker at Revival Restaurant in Charleston, we learned about South Carolina’s rich rice culture. The broken rice, known as Carolina Gold Rice, is popular and eaten as Midland rice grits.
Like in Vietnam, the less expensive broken rice is a favorite amongst top chefs.
Broken Rice Recipe – How To Make Broken Rice at Home
Making com tam at home is not difficult. Our suggestion is to have all the essential ingredients ready on the counter before you get started.
For a Saigon experience, we recommend making your broken rice with grilled pork chops or cơm tấm sườn nướng.
How To Cook Broken Rice
There are two main ways of cooking rice. Both methods are quick and easy and they both yield perfectly cooked Vietnamese broken rice.
In Vietnam, rice cookers are an indispensable kitchen item. With rice consumed at almost every meal using a rice cooker to make broken rice is easy.
If you don’t have a rice cooker, you can also make Vietnamese broken rice easily on the stove top.
Please see the broken rice recipe instructions below.
Broken Rice Cooking Instructions For Rice Cooker
If you have a rice cooker, simply follow the steps below to make your Vietnamese broken rice.
- Measure 2 cups of broken rice, 2 cups of water, and a pinch of salt.
- Rinse the broken rice with water until the water is clear.
- Transfer the washed broken rice into the rice cooker
- Add the water and pinch of salt and set your rice cooker to cook.
Cooking Broken Rice on The Stove Top
If you don’t have a rice cooker, the process of making Vietnamese broken rice on the stove top is almost identical.
- Measure 2 cups of broken rice, 2 cups of water, and a pinch of salt.
- Rinse the rice and transfer it into a pot with water and salt
- Bring it to a boil, stir it, and then cover with a tight-fitting lid
- Turn the heat down to the lowest setting and let it cook for about 15 – 20 minutes
- After the rice is cooked. Turn off the heat and let it sit in the pot for an extra 5 minutes
- Fluff with a fork and serve
What Does Broken Rice Taste Like?
Broken rice tastes exactly like regular long-grain rice. With the shorter grains, the texture is soft, and never mushy.
When cooked, broken rice is slightly softer and fluffier. The taste depends on what you serve it with.
Broken rice soaks up whatever sauce you put on it very nicely.
What to Make With Broken Rice – Marinated Grilled Pork Chop or Com Tam Suon Nuong
Com tam, Saigon’s signature dish is most popularly served with marinated grilled pork chops. It is known as com tam suon nuong or cơm tấm sườn nướng.
With this broken rice recipe, we recommend having grilled pork chops for authentic Vietnamese flavors.
Other popular Vietnamese accompaniments include grilled meats, egg meatloaf, shredded pork or an egg cooked sunny-side up.
The broken rice pork chop meal is typically garnished with sliced tomatoes and cucumbers. You can also add lightly fried sliced spring onions, pickled radish, and carrots.
Vietnamese Dipping Sauce Made From Fish Sauce
One of the secret ingredients to a tasty com tam recipe is the dipping sauce. This is one of the most quintessential elements that adds richness to the dish.
Each restaurant and home cook has their own way of mixing the fish sauce.
The dipping sauce which always includes fish sauce and sugar has wonderful sweet and sour flavors.
This sauce is so important that getting it right determines whether the broken rice dish is delicious or not.
You can make this broken rice recipe with this traditional Vietnamese dipping sauce.
- 2 tablespoons of fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons of sugar
- 3 tablespoons of water
- ½ teaspoon of Sriracha hot chili sauce
- Add fish sauce, water, and sugar and stir until everything dissolves completely
- Garnish with sliced or pickled carrots, daikon, or radish
More Traditional Vietnamese Recipes and Local Foods
Curious by nature, Rosemary loves exploring new flavors and connecting with locals. She shares her insights and culinary finds from her travels to inspire people to connect local through food.