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Xoi (sticky rice), makes for a cheap and easy Saigon breakfast

Nguyen Thi Kiem, who is now nearly 80 years old, sells xoi at the corner of Pasteur and Le Thanh Ton streets in Ho Chi Minh City's District 1

For the past 40 years, Nguyen Thi Kiem has fed Saigon its breakfast. The septuagenarian remains forever courteous and careful in her interaction with customers.

Today, Kiem's loyal following even includes a few foreign regulars. Every morning, they visit her stand on the corner of Pasteur and Le Thanh Ton streets to grab a wad of xoi.

She only sells three kinds of the popular breakfast food: xoi dau phong (peanut sticky rice), xoi dau xanh (sticky rice with green bean) and, her biggest seller, xoi bap (sweet sticky rice with corn, sugar, fried onions, and smashed cooked green beans).

"Sometimes my customers sit on the pavement and eat one, two, or even three helpings," she says.

Xoi is prepared and eaten differently in Vietnam's various regions. The basic ingredient of xoi is glutinous rice that has been soaked in salt water overnight. The various additional ingredients are often prepared with the rice, creating a unique variety of colors and flavors.

Kiem's menu covers all the basic styles of southern sticky rice, with a few exceptions.

Xoi gac (momordica or bitter melon sticky rice) is a popular option made from bitter melon seeds which, when added to the glutinous rice, yield a bright orange hue. You can usually spot it as its rolled around town on various steaming carts.

Momordica is never eaten alone. When cooked, however, it imbues the rice with a fatty buttery taste that makes it a popular breakfast item.

Xoi dau xanh usually comes out bright yellow and has the savory-sweet taste of the green beans.

Xoi nep than (black sticky rice) derives its hue from the firm, naturally black strain of rice.

Green mung beans, condensed coconut milk and coconut shavings are added to the food to make it more appealing. Xoi dau den (sticky rice with black bean) is a softer rice studded with al dente black beans.

In the south, the most popular sticky rice is xoi man (savory sticky rice) consisting of a galaxy of savory local items: Chinese sausage and quail eggs are topped with fried shallots. It's usually sprinkled with a bit of soy sauce.

A meal of sticky rice should never run more than VND15,000 (US$0.75).

Pushcart vendors ply sticky rice throughout the city, all day long. If you can't find one of them, or are interested in some special varietals, you may also want to check out the following spots:

* Kiem's booth at the corner of Pasteur and Le Thanh Ton streets in District 1.

* Xoi ga (sticky rice with chicken), xoi gac (momordica sticky rice) at 111 Bui Thi Xuan Street, District 1.

* Xoi thap cam (sticky rice with dried shrimp, chicken and Chinese sausage) on the corner of Cao Thang and Dien Bien Phu streets in District 3.

* Xoi khuc (a rice ball made from glutinous rice, green bean and pork) near the corner of Pham Van Hai and Bui Thi Xuan streets in Tan Binh District.

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