How can burnt rice be eaten, you may ask. However, we are not talking about the charcoal-black rice, we are talking about the crunchy one with various toppings. Com Chay is a rural dish and has become a favorite snack for many Vietnamese people. The dish which was unintentionally created has now been available in many versions and partly described the culture of Vietnam.
In the past, Vietnamese people used to cook rice in steel pots on charcoal stoves or wood stoves. It is very hard to modify the volume of fire, so unless you are a skillful cook, your ready-to-eat pot of rice would be burnt a little at the bottom.
Making Com Chay in a steel pot
Surprisingly, this simple dish is also evidence of a love story between a poor cook and a lady. The story came from Ninh Binh, a province that produces 385 tons of burnt rice every year. At the end of the 19th century, a young man named Dinh Hoang Thang moved from Ninh Binh to Ha Noi and worked for a big Chinese food store. He fell in love with the daughter of the restaurant’s boss. After confessing his love and proposing to her, sadly, he was rejected because of the pressure from her family. Disappointed but not despondent, he came back to his hometown and started his own business specialized in Com Chay with the experience he got when working in Ha Noi. He became successful and his fame spread so widely that his old boss knew about it. Not until then was he allowed to marry the love of his life. Thanks to his triumph, many people have tried learning the recipe and opened their own stores to sell the special version of the scorched burnt rice called Com Chay Ninh Binh.
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Nowadays, Com Chay is no longer an unwanted part of the cooker. Only highly competent cooks can make a serving of evenly yellowish-brown, not fire-blackened, and crispy Com Chay. Since it goes well with many types of meat and sauces, there are many variants, either simple or complex, of Com Chay.
The basic version of Com Chay is to eat with sauces only. In the past, families in the countryside enjoy using the stew pork and dried shrimp dip (Kho Quet), a sauce that also enhances the flavor of Rau Lang - a common Vietnamese vegetable. In Ho Chi Minh City and many parts of the South region these days, people prefer eating Com Chay topped with melted lard, minced peanuts, and chopped scallions. To make it tastier, some stores would serve salt with minced lemongrass to the customers. They can enjoy it with grilled chicken in clay pots. In such a way, Com Chay has been upgraded from a midday snack to a nutritious meal.
Com Chay with melted lard, chopped scallions, and sauces
Salt and minced lemongrass would add a unique flavor to Com Chay
Com Chay Ninh Binh, however, has a more complicated cooking process. It is made from Huong glutinous rice which grain is round and translucent. The rice is carefully cooked until it is burnt enough but still has the significant softness of glutinous rice. The locals used to dry it under the sun for better preservation. Nowadays they already have a special machine for this step so that they do not have to depend too much on the weather, save time, and produce more effectively. It is then fried before being served with goat meat, beef, pig’s heart and kidney, and some vegetables. They also take the sauces got from cooking those meats to put on the dish.
Com Chay Ninh Binh before “getting dressed” with toppings
A close version of Com Chay Ninh Binh is seafood burnt rice which is mostly available in Hai Phong, a coastal province of Vietnam. The process of cooking is similar, but the toppings of this version are made from local ingredients like shrimp, crab, squid, geoduck, and shellfish.
The simple but delicious Com Chay has become a popular and mass-produced snack that is put in nice packagings. So the most convenient and common way to buy Com Chay is via online or at takeaway food stores. Here are some addresses of the takeaway stores for your reference.
The most common kind of Com Chay for a snack - Com Chay with pork floss
If you know a Vietnamese like reliable hotel staff or your tour guide, you can ask them to help you with the online order and pick up delivery because the sellers may not be fluent in English. If you are going on our private tours, please feel free to tell us that you want to try out this delicious traditional dish, we are more than happy to support you.
Com Chay Cha Bong Chat
Address: 256B Cach Mang Thang Tam, Ward 10, District 3
Opening hours: 3 PM - 9 PM
Price: 10,000 VND/box
Com Chay of this stall, with plain pork floss and homemade sauce, might not look as eye-catching as other places but the taste is not inferior.
The Gioi Com Chay Cha Bong
Address: 277B Cach Mang Thang Tam, Ward 12, District 10
Opening hours: 9 AM - 9 PM
Price: 20,000 VND/serving
This store is not only famous for its special Com Chay made from glutinous rice but also for its fast and almost 24/24 shipping service.
Com Chay Nam Ky Khoi Nghia
Address: At the corner of the intersection of Nam Ky Khoi Nghia and Le Loi, District 1
Opening hours: 3 PM - 7 PM
Price: 35,000 VND/serving
This is just a small food stall on the sidewalk, but the quality is undeniably good. Unlike other suggested stores above, it does not provide vacuum packaging for international flights.
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Vietnamese people have utilized the familiar ingredients in the local area to make Com Chay so even the name has shown how modest this dish is. However, the harmony between the scorched burnt rice and the toppings (meats and sauces) would make you unable to stop eating.
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