Had you told me six months ago that I would buy breakfast off a decrepit bicycle fully exuding dirtiness, I’d have told you that you are nuts. Fast forward to now and my tastes have evolved and my inhibitions have dropped enough to allow me sample some cuisine that gives meals on wheels a whole new meaning.
Several mounds of rice spanning the rainbow rise out of a wicker basket,a nd ordering breakfast is as simple as choosing a color that suits a person’s mood. I chose orange over the equally compelling purple for no other reason than I have never seen orange rice. Well, I take that back. Cheap Mexican food comes with that crunchy rubbery nonsense tinted orange but that’s factory induced. I’d like to believe something more natural lends this Vietnamese stuff its weird hue.
As I normally do before taking a bite out of new street foods, I carefully watch for a steady flow of clientele to get an idea of pricing and protocol. I felt so slick and smart figuring out 5,000 VND, or 25 cents, seemed the going rate so in I felt educated enough to jump in much to the surprise of the sticky rice lady and her patrons. Who knows why I always seem to attract such a crowd whenever I veer off the western friendly trail. But here I was yet again the center of attention with people noisily narrating my every move amongst themselves. They aren’t even discreet either with the finger pointing and stares. Yes people, western guys have to eat, too!
This one is like a Vietnamese street version of a breakfast burrito in a way. Instead of a flour tortilla, a small round rice paper wrap holds this one together. Shredded sweet coconut replaces the cheese and a mixture of peanuts, salt and sugar is a worthy salsa substitute. The rice remains, but of course this being Vietnam it’s a completely different animal. As I bit into the sweet, heavy rice, I kept wondering how this woman made this rice orange. This is probably some ancient Saigon secret best left in its hiding place. A piece of recycled paper stuffed into a plastic sheath holds it all together. I can only imagine where she gets her recycled paper from but I have to believe the plastic shields the rice from all the nastiness this paper picked up on its journey from an office to the street.
A friend later explained this is xôi gấc, and the seeds of the baby jackfruit melon impart the color. She even added the very important, “Good for health!” seal of approval as well. Glutinous rice is soaked overnight in salt water and this process causes the glue-like stickiness making this one so fun to eat.
I like it. The flavors all work together like a sweet candy bar. And best of all my friend has boldly proclaimed this one to be good for health. Then again, I have never met a food over here not good for health no matter how oily, salty or fatty. I love their spin on a proper diet and am excited as well that several other colored xôi types remain for sampling.