Broken rice is exactly what it sounds like: rice grains that have broken into stubby little fragments during the threshing process. When cooked, it results in fluffier and firmer rice than its unbroken equivalent—almost like al dente couscous. Broken jasmine rice is a staple of Vietnamese cooking and one of Little Saigon’s fundamental dishes.
In Vietnamese restaurants, broken rice (com tam) is almost never eaten alone, but served as part of massive, homey combo plates. It’s the component around which the dishes are built. Com Tam Tran Quy Cap in Fountain Valley offers dozens of variations on the platter, each with an assortment of grilled, shredded, or cured meats. Order the largest combos, such as the one with grilled shrimp and grilled pork sausage, shredded pork skin, a frittata-like egg cake, and a shrimp mousse wrapped in flaky fried tofu skin.
There’s no such restraint at Com Tam Thuan Kieu. The restaurant’s most popular broken-rice plates are served with a whopping seven accompaniments. Each plate is like its own banquet, with options such as ruddy Chinese sausages, shatteringly crisp egg rolls, charbroiled chicken, and more—a family-size feast in one dish.
Old-time stalwart Thanh is more minimalist. Most tables opt for broken-rice plates with one or two accompaniments, showcasing the rice itself. But just as good are Thanh’s barbecue pork chops, lightly charred, faintly sweet things lacquered with sauce and draped over the rice. For even more decadence, opt for one of the combos capped with a fried
Com Tam Thuan Kieu serves more than 50 types of broken rice, but it’s not the restaurant’s only specialty. When you’re tired of rice, try the bun cha ha noi, Hanoi’s deconstructed take on the noodle bowl with perfectly charred pucks of pork sausage, springy rice noodles, and a basket of fresh herbs and vegetables.
Com Tam Thuan Kieu
14282 Brookhurst St., Garden Grove
Com Tam Tran Quy Cap
16175 Harbor Blvd., Fountain Valley
9872 Bolsa Ave. Westminster
Photographs by Priscilla Iezzi