Until recently, most Vietnamese, especially in poor countryside areas, used clay pots to cook rice.
The process, known as com nieu, took a long time and of course involved a lot of work. But the payoff was a delicious meal, that electric cookers can never deliver.
But since many people have begun to choose convenience over taste, cooking rice in clay pots is mostly a thing of the past, especially in the cities. In its current avatar, com nieu is a popular dish at many restaurants around the country.
For Com Nieu Minh Anh Restaurant on Hanoi's Pham Ngoc Thach Street, the secret behind a well-done com nieu is good rice and a clay pot.
Some fragrant varieties like Nang Huong or Tam Xoan are the best rice to use and the pot must be in good condition.
The cooking method is also of importance.
Com nieu can be found at the following restaurants:
COM NIEU THUY NGA
110 B2 Nguyen Chi Thanh Street, Ba Dinh District, Hanoi
Tel: (04) 3831 8528
29 Le Van Huu Street, Hai Ba Trung District, Hanoi
Tel: (04) 3 943 2356
COM NIEU MINH ANH
102-C2 Pham Ngoc Thach Street, Dong Da District, Hanoi
Tel: (04) 3852 5126
COM NIEU KHONG GIAN XUA
205 Dien Bien Phu Street, Hue Town
Tel: (054) 3 886 668
COM NIEU NHA DO
176 Nguyen Tri Phuong Street, Da Nang City
Tel: (0511) 3 990 065
COM NIEU SAI GON
- 59 Ho Xuan Huong Street, District 3, Ho Chi Minh City
Tel: (08) 3 930 2888 (08) 3 930 6888
- 19 Tu Xuong Street, District 3
Tel: (08) 3 932 6288 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
"After washing and putting the rice into the pot, pour boiling water in it and cook over a low fire until it becomes dry. Stir it occasionally. Keep a low fire under the pot or bury it under the embers for at least 20 minutes. The rice ends up with a crusty layer and a soft inside," a chef from the restaurant says.
There are some special dishes that are served with com nieu like thit kho nuoc dua (pork simmered in coconut juice), ca kho to (stewed fish in a clay pot), canh cua (freshwater crab soup), and salted eggplants.
But there are also a few modern creations. Com Nieu Thuy Nga Restaurant, also in Hanoi, offers roasted lobsters, salmon salad, and roasted or steamed crab.
In the south, Com Nieu Sai Gon has around 200 dishes in its menu including specialties from all three regions of the country and some western dishes. In the central region, Com Nieu Khong Gian Xua Restaurant in Hue Town offers some local salads and spring rolls.
Rice is the staple food in Vietnam and has been so since time immemorial. People in different parts of the country cook it in many different ways
In the south, people cook rice in coconut shells, people in the center wrap it in lotus leaves and steam it to enjoy the fragrance, and those in the northwest pour rice into bamboo tubes and boil it to make com lam.
But com nieu retains top billing. The manner of serving it is also very special. At many restaurants, waiters will throw the pots with the rice and smash them to entertain guests before the meal.