23 April 2009


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The color of cốm catches the eye first. Green, almost translucent, almost bright when light shines on it, cốm is a Vietnamese variety of sticky (or glutinous) rice harvested before it’s mature. According to Vietnamese tradition and my mother-in-law, who told me about cốm and directed us to the preeminent seller of bánh cốm (green rice cake) on Hanoi’s famed Hàng Than street, flooding forced villagers near Hanoi to harvest their rice crop before it was ripe. Faced with ruin or a partial crop, they opted to harvest the immature grains, and discovered cốm, which is pronounced by this English speaker with a long O, like "comb."
Today cốm is regarded as both a regional and seasonal Vietnamese culinary treasure. Each fall, villages in northern Vietnam, especially Vòng, regarded as the birthplace of cốm, harvest their rice when it’s around 100 days old, nearly two months before it would be harvested as “regular rice.” Cốm is pounded and cooked and roasted over fire to bring out its brilliant green color; any missteps and the green will be replaced by a dull brown, which fetches a much lower price.
After being soaked, the rice is mixed with sugar and coconut milk. It’s also flavored with pandan, which in Vietnamese is called lá dứa. When it’s fresh, it is wrapped in banana leaves and sold by street vendors. It’s also made into several well known sweets, especially one eaten during Tết, the Vietnamese New Year.

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