Vietnam, with famous dishes like Pho and Bun Bo Hue, is especially well known for its noodles, which indeed are extremely delicious.
But for myself, growing up eating rice every day, I can’t go more than a few meals without a rice based meal. Sure I love all the Vietnamese noodles, but I still have to have rice.
Luckily, as I found on my most recent trip to Saigon, along with all the noodle dishes, there’s no shortage of rice either.
Cơm Bình Dân
Throughout Saigon, Vietnam, you’ll find and abundance of small restaurants and street food stalls that sell something known as cơm bình dân (I’ll write it just as com binh dan throughout most of this article).
In Vietnamese the term literally translates to “commoner’s rice.”
It’s the Vietnamese version of economy rice in Malaysia or khao rad gaeng in Thailand, often considered a workman’s meal, including a plate piled with rice, served with your choice of a variety of dishes, all prepared and waiting to be ordered.
Side dishes can include things like deep fried items, curries, stews, braised dishes, and everything from pork to beef to seafood.
Additionally, you can order your meal directly topped onto a plate of rice, or served in side separate bowls – usually for a little bigger portion size and a little extra money.
While in Thailand, many of the rice stalls serve a selection of curries, in Saigon, at many of the com bin dan restaurants I ate at, many of the dishes were less spicy, and were more Chinese based – like stir fries, braised meats, and deep fried dishes.
Com bin dan is a meal that’s especially common throughout Saigon during lunch, when everyone from office workers to construction workers, take to the streets for their lunch break, and look for something heavy and filling.
Just like in other countries around Southeast Asia, in Saigon it’s easy to find a com bin dan restaurant, because the dishes are nearly always displayed in a showcase glass cabinet, ready to be seen and ordered.
One day while exploring Saigon, I stopped at a very typical com binh dan lunch restaurant along So 2 on Vuon Chuoi street, in a local Saigon neighborhood.
The food looked good and fresh, and I was hungry, so I decided to stop for a meal.
Rather than ordering everything over my plate of rice, due to my hunger for lunch, I decided to order a few plates of food as side dishes.
Though the owner of the restaurant didn’t speak English, she was extremely friendly, and I was able to just explain to her that I wanted separate plates of the dishes, which she easily understood.
As soon as I ordered, she quickly, using a plate covered in plastic, scooped hot rice from a giant thermos onto my plate, and then added a few pickled mustard green on top.
The first dish I chose was a piece of fish, sliced into a steak, and braised (I think) in a sweet salty soy sauce.
The meat of the fish was dry and meaty, so I think it was a type of tuna. The fish was a little dry, mostly due to the type of fish, but it was hearty and I enjoyed it.
Coming from Thailand, I would have to say that the beef is, on a whole, usually a bit better in Vietnam, especially at street food stalls. During my trip to Saigon, I ate quite a bit of beef, and really enjoyed it.
When I saw the sautéed beef available at this com binh dan stall, I ordered a plate. The beef was sliced thinly, and cooked with bell peppers and onions, and lots of delicious beef juice.
The beef was nice and tender, seasoned with little more than salt and a hint of black pepper, and along with my plate of hot rice, and some chilies provided on the table, it was delicious.
Ying decided to order a plate of squid, which came stir fried with slices of cucumber and tomatoes, and garnished with cilantro.
The squid was surprisingly tender, not very chewy at all like you’d expect from squid, and it tasted quite fresh to me. Overall, the squid dish wasn’t too flavorful, mostly just salty, and slightly sour from the tomatoes, but still, it was pretty good.
Tofu stuffed with pork
Easily my favorite dish of this meal was a piece of tofu, stuffed with a mixture of seasoned minced pork, and topped with a chunky tomato sauce that included green onions.
It literally almost tasted like a meatball marinara, only with soft tofu wrapped around the outside, giving it a silky texture.
What I loved most was that wonderful tomatoey flavor, paired with the meat and tofu. I’m not sure what the name of this dish is in Vietnamese, but I did notice it quite commonly available at many com binh dan street food stalls throughout Saigon.
It’s definitely a winning dish, so if you see it, make sure to give it a try.
If you have a few minutes, be sure to watch the video of this meal now – just press play:
(Or watch it here: http://youtu.be/13zWgdi06h8)
Cơm Bình Dân (com binh dan) is a Vietnamese meal of rice and side dishes, often served at makeshifts street food stalls and small restaurants. It’s a meal that people eat when they need something filling and substantial, often considered a workman’s meal, or as it literally translates to – commoner’s rice.
You get a plate of rice, and can then choose from the selection of prepared dishes, which can included stir fried, boiled, or deep fried dishes, and braised dishes, with usually quite a wide selection of meat, seafood, and vegetables available.
The food is by all means loaded with MSG, and many of the dishes are on the greasy side, but I have to say that it’s quite delicious, and as a rice lover, I enjoyed many plates of com binh dan during my time in Saigon.
Cơm Bình Dân Restaurant
Here’s the information about the restaurant I went to this day for lunch, but it’s nearly identical to hundreds, if not thousands of other street food stalls and restaurants throughout Saigon serving com binh dan.
Address: Right off Vuon Chuoi on So 2 (on the next street over from the snail street)
Open hours: I think from about 10 am – 2 pm everyday for lunch. I went at 11 am, and the food was fresh and the main lunch rush hadn’t yet arrived.
Prices: Our total bill for all the dishes you see pictured and for two huge plates of rice was 70,000 VND ($3.23) – so it’s definitely a budget meal, and eating com binh dan is about as much food for as little of money as you can get in Saigon.
You can see the pinpoint of the location on the map (#7). Scroll down on the left hand side and click on “7. Cơm Bình Dân,” and it should zoom in on the map.