Every autumn, a familiar sight emerges near St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Hanoi – Hoc, a seasoned vendor, sets up her stall to offer a beloved Hanoian snack: young green rice.
As the season unfolds its charm, the streets surrounding the Old Quarter, St. Joseph’s Cathedral, and Hoan Kiem Lake become adorned with the presence of vendors offering bundles of lotus-wrapped delights. These bundles, easy to carry, entice the younger customers with their fragrant contents of com, or young green rice.
Nguyen Thi Hoc, 45, ventures out with her bamboo basket loaded with these bundles. Opting for a unique setup where there are no seating arrangements, her customers often purchase and enjoy this snack at nearby cafes. Positioned adjacent to a bustling coffee shop popular among the youth, Hoc’s young green rice has gained a dedicated following.
Nguyen Thi Hoc’s green rice basket by St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Hanoi, August 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Mai
Hoc’s vendor is simple yet effective – a bamboo basket crowned with an aluminum tray containing neatly arranged packages of young green rice. Each bundle features young green rice infused with coconut essence and fragrant coconut milk, enveloped in vibrant green leaves.
Beginning at 6 a.m. each day, Hoc starts going through the neighboring streets. By 7 a.m., she settles at the top of Nha Chung Street and is ready to sell. Around 8 a.m., a wave of customers gathers – office workers, photography enthusiasts, and coffee lovers. Each bundle, approximately 200 grams, is priced at VND50,000 (US$2).
On regular weekdays, Hoc typically sells around 3-4 kilograms of young green rice. When sales are slower, she will stay later and wrap up around 6 p.m. However, weekends bring an influx of customers, allowing her to sell around 7-10 kilograms throughout the day. The surrounding area of St. Joseph’s Cathedral features multiple street food stalls, with some shops also joining the seasonal trend by selling com.
Hoc’s street-side operation may not rival the scale of a store, but it offers something different – her young green rice is made with a homemade touch. She shares that her family, with roots in Nam Tu Liem District, specializes in making this delight.
Me Tri Village has a history spanning over a century. In 2019, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism officially acknowledged the craft of making young green rice in Me Tri as a national intangible cultural heritage.
The art of making young green rice has been passed down for two generations in the family of Nguyen Thi Nhung, Hoc’s sister. With over 30 years of experience, Nhung is an artisan in the field.
Bundles of young green rice are wrapped using leaves, secured with straw ropes. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Mai
According to Nhung, com can be fashioned from various sticky rice varieties, but yellow flower sticky rice is favored for producing the most fragrant and sweet young green rice.
The process of making com is intricate and meticulous. Young rice is harvested and brought in from the suburban districts before undergoing multiple rounds of threshing and winnowing. The young glutinous rice is then roasted for over two hours on a wooden stove and pounded in a mortar to attain suppleness and resilience.
While manual methods once dominated, many households now employ machines, saving time and labor while upholding quality standards. The ideal hue for com is a vivid green tint complemented by a hint of young rice leaf yellow.
Com comes in various types, including early, mid-season, and late-season young green rice. Each variation has its distinct flavor profile.
“Early-season young green rice retain their youthfulness, with a rice milk essence. Late-season com is denser and sweeter. Nevertheless, September’s variation is regarded as the most delectable.”
Young green rice embodies the quintessential gift of Hanoi’s autumn, paired well with hot drinks. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Mai
Traditionally wrapped in lotus leaves, young green rice has a subtle aroma. Today, lotus leaves have become harder to find, prompting some vendors to opt for alternative leaves or dong leaves. Although these substitutes maintain the green hue, they lack the fragrance of lotus leaves.
Savoring com is a leisurely experience. It is enjoyed without using any plates. Diners simply take portions of the green rice, press them into bite-sized morsels, and relish the flavors.
Locals often have young green rice with bananas. They also experiment with variations like yogurt or turning them into savory dishes, such as pork rolls, omelette or stir-fried rice.
A bundle consists of green rice combined with lotus seeds and shredded coconut. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Mai
Ngoc Anh, 22, from Hanoi, said: “Fresh com is wonderfully chewy and mildly sweet. The coconut-infused sticky rice has a lovely, nutty scent.”
“I personally favor fresh com as it reminds me of the traditional gift I’ve loved since childhood,” Anh said as she and her friend got the young green rice from Hoc, planning to enjoy them at a café.
Nguyen Tham, 27, from Hai Phong which is less than two hours from Hanoi, was so intrigued by social media posts depicting people enjoying green rice at a café overlooking St. Joseph’s Cathedral that she decided to give it a try. During a recent visit, Tham bought five packs of com from Hoc – one for immediate consumption and the others as gifts.
She said: “Com offers a unique blend of softness and sweetness. Although it’s made from glutinous rice, it’s nothing like a sticky rice dish. On closer inspection, you can still sense a subtle rice essence.” Tham plans to wrap her own young green rice in lotus leaves when she returns home.