A dish with down to earth memories

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Pots of steamed rice Cantonese people brought to Saigon centuries ago can be found at a restaurant that's been open for more than 60 years

Pots of steamed rice (com tho) served with Chinese black herbal chicken at Cantonese Restaurant Chuyen Ky in District 1, HCMC

Com tho rice steamed and served in small clay pots was one of many foods that achieved immediate popularity in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) when it was introduced by Cantonese people centuries ago.

At a time rice cookers have made things convenient for both restaurants and households, the flavor of rice cooked in earthenware has almost been forgotten.

However, at least one restaurant in an old downtown market still sells pots of rice as it has always done since it was founded in the 1950s.

Located on Ton That Dam Street, District 1, Chuyen Ky is almost hidden by kiosks of the Cho Cu (Old Market), which is said to have opened in the 17th century.

While passers-by can easily miss it, it is actually a familiar venue among many HCMC residents, especially the elderly and middle-aged.

At Chuyen Ky, rice (washed) is put in clay pots with some water. The pots are then placed in a big steamer with many layers. Cooked this way, the rice is softer and tastier. It is also easy to keep the rice warm for longer.

Asked about the pots that look original with creamy white color and rough surfaces, Chung Thuy Thuy, who inherited the restaurant from her Cantonese grandmother, said her family ordered thousands of them from a pottery maker.

The pots are quite sturdy, unlike the ones now sold in the market, she said.

Com tho is served with a wide variety of other foods and Chuyen Ky has an array of dishes made with beef, chicken, fish, shrimp, pork, crab, and squid that are either  stir-fried, deep-fried, stewed, or cooked as soups.

Whenever you visit Chuyen Ky, you must check out their ga ac tiem thuoc bac a popular Chinese soup in which chicken is stewed with herbs.

What makes Chuyen Ky different from other sellers of the soup is that it cooks with original herbs, not processed ingredients.

Another must-try dish is suon xao chua ngot pork ribs wrapped in flour and fried, and then stir-fried with a sauce that tastes both sour and sweet.

CƠM THỐ CHUYÊN KÝ

67 Ton That Dam Street, Ben Nghe Ward, District 1

Open hours: 11 a.m. 10 p.m.

Prices: com tho (VND3,000/pot),
ga ac tiem thuoc bac (VND50,000/bowl), suon xao chua ngot  (VND80,000/dish), ham vi chung hot vit  (VND60,000/set)

The dish's sourness, sweetness and saltiness combines very well with white rice.

Ham vi chung hot vit fish mixed with eggs and then steamed is another dish that tastes best when eaten with white rice. Accompaniments are raw leafy vegetables and cucumbers.

In the past, Chuyen Ky's com tho was famous not only because of its quality but also because it suited people of every class.

Poor people could order many pots of rice (each pot equals to a small bowl) to eat with just one dish of thit kho (braised pork), while those who had money could enjoy a meal with two pots of rice and expensive dishes like steamed fish and roasted chicken.

But, now for many people, eating com tho is a way to revive old memories and tastes of Saigon.

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