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.
Perhaps the most attractive scent ever for humankind is the smell of meat grilling over an open fire. That pretty much explains why the distinctive smell of grilled pork and com tam in has become an irreplaceable icon of Saigon. There’s always at least one com tam eatery on practically every street of the city. Here’s an all-you-need-to-know about Com Tam in Saigon – where to find the best of these dishes and of course, how to make it yourself because I guarantee you will fall in love with it.
The attraction of the dish lies not only in its great taste but also in the superior healthiness and simplicity in cooking it using fractured rice grain. Sellers can even rub the rice grains until it gets broken. This makes com tam quite different from other Vietnamese meals prepared with normal rice.
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.
How to Make 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
Source: Helen’s Recipes (Vietnamese Food)
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.
Best Com Tam in Town
Com Tam Ba Ghien
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. 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. Ba Ghien offers diners a kind of dining atmosphere which is among of the greatest joys of living and eating in Vietnam.
The ribs here are huge and fills a whole plate of broken rice and are always very thick.
Address: 84 Dang Van Ngu Street, Phu Nhuan District
Opening hours: 8h – 21h30
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.
Address: 100 Thach Thi Thanh, District 1 or 164 Cong Quynh, District 1
Opening hours: 6h30 – 23h30
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.
Address: 32 Nguyen Trai Street, District 1
Opening hours: 10h – 21h
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.
Address: 500-502 An Duong Vuong Street, District 5
Opening hours: 6.30h – 21h
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
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!
Enjoyed this article and want to learn about other Vietnamese food? How about some bun rieu, pho, or oc (sea snails)?
Check out the food section in Christina’s blog for more information about delicious Vietnamese dishes!