10/24/2011

Rice Balls (com nam)

When Vietnam was still a poor country, it was rice balls that fed the nation. Though basically a very simple meal, com nam, the Vietnamese term for rice balls, nourished farmers who worked hard in the fields all day long and satisfied vendors and businessmen selling their wares in the city. Rice ball is a traditional Vietnamese meal carried on for hundreds of years.

Before, rice balls were served plain or, to add a little touch to it, sprinkled with crushed peanuts, sesame and salt. Today, balled rice has come a long way as it is now considered a specialty especially in a village in Van Giang in Hung Yen Province. It is still a bestseller in the streets of Hanoi. And while it used to be considered a poor man’s food, com nam today are eaten by people from all walks of life and treated as a Vietnamese delicacy.

Vietnamese are quite particular with their food. And when it comes to their com nam, they have strict standards about the quality and texture of the rice balls. First of all, the balls must be made from soft and aromatic rice. After being cooked and wrapped, the grains should remain slightly firm and intact. They should stick together to form smooth, white, beautiful balls.

Rice balls have always been considered a snack. And for people in a rush who don’t have time to sit down and savor a proper meal, rice balls are perfect to-go foods which are healthy and affordable all at the same time. And aside from the traditional rice balls, com nam has also sort of expanded as other rice-based products have also come into existence and in fact, a lot of popularity. Banh gio for instance is a glutinous rice wrapped around pork, black mushrooms and chopped pearl onions.

Rice balls have gotten so popular that they are now available in Ho Chi Minh City, served in the famous restaurant Com Nam Viet. If you’re in the area, you can find this Vietnamese balled rice restaurant at 151B Hai Ba Trung Street, District 1. The restaurant is known for preparing rice balls deliciously and even offering three kinds of sesame salt.

Whether eaten at home sliced into cubes as an hors d’oeuvre or in the streets as a casual, simple treat, rice balls is an important part of the Vietnamese people’s lives, even a part of their history.