Vietnamese Green Rice (cốm) is a traditional delicacy deeply rooted in Vietnamese culture. Here’s all the things you should know about Vietnamese Green Rice: its origins, how to make and applications in today’s Vietnamese cuisine.
What is Vietnamese Green Rice?
Vietnamese Green Rice, known locally as “cốm”, is a special type of rice made from young, tender rice grains. Unlike the familiar white rice, cốm is characterized by its green color, which is derived from a time-intensive making method.
Green Rice is not merely a food item; it is a symbol of Vietnamese traditions, festivities, and the close connection between the Vietnamese people and their rice-growing heritage. Each grain of Vietnamese carries the refreshing taste of young milk and a unique fragrance. Therefore, this is Hanoi’s number one specialty to bring as a gift for loved ones and friends when traveling.
According to the elderly, the tradition of making Cốm in Vòng village dates back a thousand years. One day, as the rice fields were ripening and the rice plants bent gracefully, a sudden storm swept through, causing the river to overflow and submerge the rice paddies. Crops were lost everywhere, and a sense of despair filled the air. Those who couldn’t bear to see their months of hard work go to waste immediately headed to the fallen rice fields, plucking young rice grains to bring home and dry as a means to ward off hunger. Fortunately, the unintended result of their efforts not only saved the village from famine but also produced a delicious, sweet, sticky, and fragrant treat. As a result, every year when the rice begins to ripen, the people of Vòng village harvest the rice to enjoy this delightful snack.
How Vietnamese Green Rice is made
The process of making Vietnamese Green Rice involves many steps to transfer from unripe sticky rice grains to a yellow-green rice flakes. To produce it, the unripe rice must be harvested at the right moment. If the rice is too mature, it will not be green and will become hard and brittle. In contrast, if the rice is too young, it will stick to the husks and become soft and less flavorful.
First, the glutinous rice is harvested, then the grains are separated from the husks, and any impurities are removed by washing them with water. Only the plump grains are selected. After this preparation, the rice is placed in a cast iron pan for roasting. It’s important not to use charcoal for roasting because the high heat can be detrimental. Instead, wood is used to control the fire. Initially, the fire is kept at a moderate level, and when the rice grains turn slightly white, the heat is reduced. During the roasting process, the rice must be constantly stirred to ensure even heating.
Once the rice is thoroughly roasted, it is allowed to cool before being pounded in a mortar in batches. Depending on the rice’s level of maturity, pounding and sifting may need to be repeated from 5 to 8 times to achieve the desired consistency. Finally, it is sifted again to remove any remaining rice grains, typically about 3 more times.
The Art of Wrapping Green Rice
After obtaining the final green rice, farmers wrap it in two layers of leaves. The inner layer consists of banana leaves to prevent the rice from drying out and losing its green color. The outer layer consists of lotus leaves to impart its distinctive fragrance from lotus.
Through an elaborate making process, Vietnamese green rice is finally served in 2 types, fresh and dried. Fresh rice is soft and sweet, while dried one becomes very hard flakes.
Fresh green rice should not be kept for long. In damp weather, it can become moldy, while in dry conditions, it can turn hard, losing its addictive chewiness. Moreover, there’s no need for any extra seasoning or preparation, unlike other dishes. Therefore, enjoying it in early autumn is a pleasure when visiting Hanoi. Although there are still some street stalls all years round, the flavor of autumn’s green rice would be the best.
Dried green rice can be preserved in a longer period, usally 6 months – 1 year. Keep it in a cool, dry place and avoid direct sunlight.
Recipes with Vietnamese Green Rice
As a perfect local gifts from Hanoi, Vietnamese Green Rice is used to make many luscious dishes. Here are several good foods you should try:
- Xôi cốm or Vietnamese Green Sticky Rice, including green rice and glutinous rice, topped with grated coconuts.
- Chả cốm or Vietnamese Green Rice Meatballs: minced pork and green rice mixture shaping into meatballs.
- Banh com or Vietnamese Green Rice Cake: green rice paste with mung bean paste filling.
Save the list and try it one day!