The taste of Hanoi’s autumn
As soon as autumn comes, com (young sticky rice flakes) is sold abundantly in every corner of Hanoi (Photo: vietnammoi.vn)
autumn is also the season for com or young sticky rice flakes. Com can be eaten
directly or enjoyed with bananas like a snack. It can also be mixed with other
food ingredients to create a variety of tasty dishes, including cha com
(Vietnamese com sausage) and com xao (browned green sticky rice).
Unlike other kinds of cha like cha ruoi
(nereididae sandworm omelette), cha ca (charcoal grilled fish) and cha muc (fried
patties with squid eggs) which are mainly composed of seafood ingredients and
little fish, cha com is mainly made of com and has the subtle scent of new
rice. Other ingredients for the dish include lean pork and pork paste.
According to Bui Thi Van, a housewife in Hanoi
who has made cha com for years, selecting the appropriate kind of com is
important to the quality of the dish. If the cook chooses the wrong kind of com,
the dish will become either too crushed or tough.
“Com is divided into two kinds: com in
early autumn and com in the middle of autumn. The grain of the first kind is
thin and soft, suitable for vegetarian dishes or being eaten with bananas. The
second is a bit thicker and a little hard, suitable for cooking pudding and cha
com,” Van said.
“Com is sold abundantly on the streets when
autumn comes, but the best comes from Vong village on the northwestern
outskirts of Hanoi.
“The meat to mix with com should be lean
shoulder pork, which contains fat, so the taste will not become too dry or the
dish downsized on being fried. The mixture will then be added with salt,
seasoning and delicious fish sauce. It will be left to absorb all the spices
for less than ten minutes.
“To preserve the original scent of com, no
onion or garlic is added,” she said.
After that, the mixture is kneaded into
small pieces and steamed from 15 to 20 minutes. Finally, cha com is fried until
it becomes light brown on both sides. According to experienced cooks, instead
of being placed on the plates, pieces of cha com should be arranged on lotus
leaves to absorb the subtle scent of the lotus, the symbolic flower of Hanoi’s
The dish is best when the skin is crisp, com
inside soft and the fragrance of the grain mixed with lotus. It can be dipped
into chilli or fish sauce to be eaten with cooked rice or rice noodle.
As the com season lasts only three months.
The dish can be frozen in the refrigerator in large quantities for long-term
use so cha com is available all year round. Especially, the sausage, together
with bun dau mam tom (fermented shrimp paste with fried tofu and rice
vermicelli), has become one of Hanoi’s most popular street foods.
The dish can be found abundantly in corners
and alleys of the capital, but the most renowned stalls can be found in Phat
Loc lane, Ma May or Ngo Gach street.
“Bun dau mam tom is my favourite dish for
lunch,” said Nguyen Phuong Thao, a regular visitor to a stall in Ngo Gach street.
“To me, the dish cannot be complete without cha com. The sausage served in Ngo
Gach street is thick, delicious and not too greasy. ”
While cha com is a great choice for the
main course, com xao is a fantastic idea for dessert or for tea break.
While not as popular as other dishes made
from the grain, com xao enchants with the first bite.
For a more sophisticated version, the dish
can be supplemented with thinned copra, which will enhance the buttery taste
and crunchy feeling.
According to Van, com to cook com xao must
be made in early autumn, soft and plastic. Its colour is not too green but
turns a little bit yellow and especially, it must have the scent of the new
sticky rice. Though the process of choosing com as its main ingredient is a bit
strict, cooking the dish is not too difficult. Just needing to add sugar,
thinned copra and coconut milk, the cook can get ready to make com xao.
“Similar to cha com, as soon as it is
finished, com xao needs to be wrapped in lotus leaves to absorb the subtle
scent of lotus,” Van said.
Like fresh young sticky rice flakes, the
dish can also be enjoyed like a snack. The eater cuts the dish into pieces and
downs it with a hot cup of lotus tea.
“In the bit cold of early autumn, what is
more pleasant than nibbling pieces of com xao in the lotus fragrance evaporated
from hot tea mixed with the fragrance of sticky rice. That’s truly the taste of
Hanoi’s autumn,” Van added. - VNA