SAIGON & SOUTHERN VIETNAM
The warmer weather and fertile soil of Southern Vietnam makes for an ideal place to grow a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Sugar is added to food more than in the previous two regions as well. This is best illustrated when comparing northern and southern phở. Unlike northern phở which is relatively neutral in flavor and garnished only with green onions, southern phở has a noticeably sweeter broth and is served with a forest of fresh greens, bean sprouts, and herbs.
Bột chiên is a classic street food from Saigon. It’s basically rice flour mixed with tapioca starch that’s steamed, cooled, then cut into flat squares before being pan-fried in lard with some egg and green onions until golden brown and crispy. If you’re familiar with Malaysian or Singaporean food, then you may find it similar to char koay kak in Malaysia or chai tow kueh (“carrot cake”) in Singapore. Unlike those two versions though, bột chiên isn’t made with any daikon radish.
Cơm Gà Hải Nam
Com Ga Hai Nam is the Vietnamese version of Hainanese chicken and rice. I was reading through a recipe for it and it seems to be pretty much the same as the Singaporean version, except for a few small differences in presentation and sauces. In Vietnam, they serve the chicken over a bed of shredded lime leaves and with only nước chấm as the dipping sauce. This is different from the Singaporean version which is served with a trio of sauces – pureed ginger, kecap manis (sweet soy sauce), and chili sauce. Apart from that, the versions seem identical.
Cơm Gà Xối Mỡ
Cơm gà xối mỡ refers to fried chicken and rice, but what makes the version so special is the unique way in which they fry the chicken. Nicknamed “waterfall chicken” that literally fries the chicken in a waterfall of oil.
The chicken is first poached in a master stock, so it’s already cooked through by the time it goes under the waterfall frying machine. The chef leaves it under a shower of oil (about 180°C) for just a few minutes to supremely crisp up the skin. As you can see from the picture below, there’s no arguing with the results. You can tell just how delicate and crisp that skin is. And since it wasn’t deep-fried, the chicken itself isn’t too oily. This was bar none the crispiest chicken I have ever eaten in my life. It is so damn delicious.
The chicken is served with red rice and a sauce that’s savory-sweet and very garlicky, kinda like soy sauce with teriyaki and oyster sauce, maybe some hoisin and other spices too. It’s a perfect combination.
Cơm tấm means “broken rice” and is one of Saigon’s most well-known dishes. It’s called “broken rice” because it’s made with rice grain fragments that were broken either in the field, during drying, during transport, or by milling. Because it was damaged, cơm tấm was a traditionally cheaper grade of rice which has since become more expensive as a sought after delicacy. Broken rice usually served with a grilled pork chop. The pork chop is savory, sweet, very tender, and perfect to eat with the broken rice.