Pots of steamed rice Cantonese people brought to Sài Gòn centuries ago can be found at a restaurant that’s been open for more than 60 years.
Cơm thố – rice steamed and served in small clay pots – was one of many foods that achieved immediate popularity in Sài Gòn (now Hồ Chí 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 Tôn Thất Đạm Street, District 1, Chuyên Ký is almost hidden by kiosks of the Chợ Cũ (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 Hồ Chí Minh City residents, especially the elderly and middle-aged.
Pots of steamed rice (cơm thố) served with Chinese black herbal chicken at Cantonese Restaurant Chuyên Ký in District 1, Hồ Chí Minh City
At Chuyên Ký, 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, Chừng Thúy Thúy, 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 thố is served with a wide variety of other foods and Chuyên Ký 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 Chuyên Ký, you must check out their gà ác tiềm thuốc bắc – a popular Chinese soup in which chicken is stewed with herbs.
What makes Chuyên Ký different from other sellers of the soup is that it cooks with original herbs, not processed ingredients.
Another must-try dish is sườn xào chua ngọt – pork ribs wrapped in flour and fried, and then stir-fried with a sauce that tastes both sour and sweet.
The dish’s sourness, sweetness and saltiness combines very well with white rice.
Hầm vĩ chưng hột vịt – 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, Chuyên Ký’s cơm thố 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 thịt 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 Sài Gòn.
Cơm thố Chuyên Ký
67 Tôn Thất Đạm Street, Bến Nghé Ward, District 1, Hồ Chí Minh City
11 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Cơm thố (VND3,000/pot),
Gà ác tiềm thuốc bắc (VND50,000/bowl)
Sườn xào chua ngọt (VND80,000/dish)
Hầm vĩ chưng hột vịt (VND60,000/set)
Source: Thanh Niên News