Great balls of rice

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When Vietnam was still poor, rice balls fuelled the nation.

Farmers who toiled in fields far from their homes relied on the modest snacks to recharge them at midday and power them through to sunset. Rice balls sprinkled with crushed peanuts, sesame and salt were included in the daily equipment of street vendors and businessmen, alike. We don't know exactly when the dish was first prepared. But we do know that it has been enjoyed in Vietnam for hundreds of years since.

Nowadays, cơm nắm, or balled rice, is heralded as a specialty from a village in Van Giang in Hung Yen Province.

It continues to be sold as a snack item on the streets of Hanoi. The balls must be made from soft, aromatic rice Vietnamese have strict standards about the quality and texture of their cơm nắm. After being cooked and wrapped, the grains should remain slightly firm and intact. They should stick together to form beautiful, smooth white balls.

In addition to balled rice, other rice-based snack foods, such as bánh giò (glutinous rice wrapped around pork, black mushrooms and chopped pearl onions) remain popular throughout the country. These dishes no longer remind the urban rich of rural poverty. Instead, they are considered simple delicacies. 

Those who don't have the time to grab a full bowl of noodles for breakfast should consider a simple and filling rice ball. The dish is tasty, cheap and gets one through the day.

HOW TO MAKE SESAME SALT

Heat a pan over moderate heat, add sesame seeds and stir. When the seeds become fragrant, add them into a bowl.

Roast shelled peanuts in a similar fashion. When the shells darken, pour into a bowl and cover with a sheet of newspaper. When the peanuts cool, remove the shells and pour the meat in a mortar.

Use a pestle to pound them into smaller grains. Add the sesame seeds to the mortar and continue to crush. Heat salt in the pan and add to the mix.

To welcome guests into your home, especially on a rainy day, consider offering them this hot, simple treat. Rice balls cut into slices are considered a humble hors d'oeuvre.

On the streets of Hanoi, it is not uncommon to see couples veer to the side of the road at the sight of a woman selling cơm nắm from a shoulder pole.

The dish has spread throughout the country, and is now available in Ho Chi Minh City. Com Nam Viet (Vietnamese balled rice) Restaurant, located at 151B Hai Ba Trung Street, District 1, is famous for this dish and boasts threes varieties of sesame salt.

Try it and see why the dish remained popular through so many generations.

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