Fried rice made an appearance early on in the food journey. Back then I was somewhat skittish about most Vietnamese foods and that plate of cơm rang in Hanoi hit the spot. Those little grains of carbohydrates infused with wok lard would have been at home in the US as well and I appreciated their familiarity. The actual dish may not have been all that exotic, but at the time eating it in a gritty street food restaurant in Hanoi was experience enough.
With several hundred various meals now under my belt (and thankfully not expanding my belt!), fried rice has once again crossed my path. This time, however, the whole experience exuded that rawness only delivered out in the streets of Saigon. Even the name is different in the south…cơm chiên rather than cơm rang. In my former life I don’t think I would have ever ordered takeaway breakfast food from the back of a bike in the neighborhood behind my apartment. My tastes have evolved so much.
So you are asking what is so special about rice mixed with peas, carrots and sweet sausage. Well, yes, nothing really when taken alone. However, add the nearby ambience of cow heads hanging from hooks and bloody chickens adding their effluent to the already rain soaked streets, and the whole scene is a recipe for sensory overload. And besides, this fried rice had some toppings I had never before seen grace the inside of a Styrofoam takeaway box.
The rice lady tossed very thin strips of strange yellow and grey meat products on top and then doused it all with a squirt of hot sauce. If anything was going to explode my stomach, it would be that meat stuff I did not want to identify. Being that this is Vietnam this could be something as benign as regular meat or as scary as intestines. This is afterall the same country that duped me into eating chicken buttholes with that poorly translated “bankruptcy chicken questions” menu item.
The spongy meat didn’t repulse my taste buds but at the same did little to tantalize them. Though the hot sauce made it palatable, the texture made it all highly suspicious to my better judgment. The rice was great and I ate every last grain. Even the pork went down the hatch, too.
On my way home I noticed several more breakfast bikes and I do believe a whole new food universe has opened up.