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In Viet cuisine, what's the deal with broken rice?

I see Vietnamese restaurants often use broken rice in their rice plates. Is broken rice a lower grade version of rice or do they break it on purpose so that dishes are served this way? What's the idea behind it? Do the Vietnamese actually prefer their rice texture to be broken? Why would that be the case? Any natives with some answers?

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  1. Broken rice - or rice with a higher percentage of "brokens" - is a lower grade rice. Don't know about the use in Vietnamese cuisine. I know that rice with higher percentages of brokens is bought by African countries, as it's cheaper.

    1 Reply
    1. re: MMRuth

      My husband (who trades rice) also just noted that broken rice cooks "stickier" - which may be another reason it is preferred.

    2. My Viet friends tell me that it is a different technique in cooking the rice. Here is an article from LA Weekly

      1. According to my in-laws, it was originally rice grains that were broken during the harvest and cleaning of the rice. Although still edible, they didn't look as good, so they were cheaper to buy. Naturally, this was very popular among the poorer folks. But other social classes began eating it because it is very tasty. Some folks prefer broken rice to regular rice. It definitely tastes different from unbroken rice.

        7 Replies
        1. re: raytamsgv

          I'm so intrigued, in what way does the taste of broken rice differ from "whole rice"?

          1. re: orangewasabi

            Com tam (broken rice) is nuttier. I don't know why, but it's nuttier. It also clumps together better, so it's easier to eat with a spoon (chopsticks are not normally used when eating com tam plates).

            I liken it to "plain" risotto -- you could get the same kind of effect by cooking carnaroli rice as though it were plain white rice.

            1. re: Das Ubergeek

              so would brown com tam be the ultimate in nuttiness then?

              (I love rice and am now jonesing for some broken rice)

              1. re: orangewasabi

                I've never seen a Viet restaurant serve brown rice, actually.

                1. re: orangewasabi

                  Ubergeek pretty much sums up the difference in taste and texture. As for broken brown rice, I don't see why you couldn't have it, although I've never actually seen it served.

                  1. re: raytamsgv

                    One thing worth mentioning, according to someone I know, broken rice also has a lot shorter time than whole rice that you can store it before it goes bad. It isn't so sever with polished white rice (which is basically just starch by that point) but in the case of brown rice which still has its bran and more importantly it's oily germ) broken rice grains can go really rancid, really quickly. This person specifaclly says that before long term storage of whole rice grains it is important to remove any that are broken since they will go racid and spoil the rest of the rice.

                2. re: Das Ubergeek

                  is it therefore the case that you can subsitute arborio rice with broken rice and make risotto with it? that'd be great! :)

            2. Broken rice is rice that wasn't dried properly. It sells for less. In Vietnam, where a lot of rice is dried on the highways and sometimies gets rained on. high brokens result. Also in Vietnam, I never had cooked broken being thought of as desirable.

              1. I wonder if it is also that the rice has sat all day in a rice cooker and become clumpy and broken.

                1. In Viet Nam, broken rice is a cheaper than whole. It used to be that only poorer people would buy it, but it has gained favor in wider circles as it has a different texture and slightly starchier consistency than the preferred long grain rice.

                  Do Vietnamese prefer rice texture to be broken? Not necessarily. But traditionally, there are places who specialize in rice plates with broken rice and traditional foods: grilled meats, eggrolls, pickled vegetables, etc. These became popular in Southern Viet Nam, particularly in Saigon. Many of the immigrants in the US are from the South and have brought over these nostaglic dishes.

                  Broken rice is only eaten with those particular foods - the bbq and eggroll-type dishes I mentioned. It's not eaten on a regular basis with typical every-day food. Not in my family anyway. Growing up, I never had broken rice at home. But once in awhile we'd go to a broken rice restaurant.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: vnchile

                    I love broken rice and prefer to the long grain for the reasons people have already described (taste, starch).

                    Can I buy broken rice specifically for cooking and is it still cheaper, now that it has apparently gained in popularity??

                    1. re: asiansensation007

                      Don't know where you live, but it can be hard to find. I've seen it at a Ranch 99 once, but at another one, I couldn't find it.

                      I've seen in most often at Vietnamese-specific small grocery stores in San Jose, CA. Prices seem higher to me because they're sold in smaller bags, but you might catch a deal here and there.

                  2. I just came upon this post while I was stalking broken rice on the internet. I just wanted to shout out my love for Com Tam (broken rice). I go to only 1 vietnamese restaurant in a city full of them just because they serve it with their lemongrass beef dishes. I know it's the lower grade rice, but the texture of the broken pieces of rice is spectacular and I'm pretty hooked. I think it's sturdier per grain than whole grains of rice, so when the egg yolk pops and pours over everything, the combination is to die for.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: kongrid

                      I like broken rice a lot too. I think the texture is great. It's somewhat like coarse couscous. And I agree with others that, for whatever reason, it has a nuttiness that whole grains lack.

                    2. Broken rice is imported into Okinawa from Thailand and other SE Asian countries to make the Awamori distilled spirit. The main reason is because it is really cheap, apparently.