Rightly For Blue Collars
Comnam Broken Rice is a new Vietnamese outfit in town. The Raffles City Shopping Centre restaurant, founded by chef-owner Nam Quoc Nguyen, serves traditional broken rice dishes, rice soups, and other desserts for the rice-hungry.
According to Vietnam War escapee Nguyen, broken rice (otherwise known as Cơm tấm) in the olden days was regarded as industrial waste and cheaply sold to the more impoverished, so us seeing a proliferation of this commoner’s dish may very well do justice to Marx’s foreshadowing of a proletarian uprising.
Closely located to sister joint Nam Nam Noodle Bar, the basement-housed Comnam has all the vibrancy and modesty that surrounds Vietnamese dining. Having 5 to a table like we did, for instance, will prove to be an authentically intimate affair. If you choose to pay visit to this humble establishment, perhaps start off with the world-acclaimed Viet Coffee ($2.60) to properly set yourself up for the rest of the meal.
Crispy Potato String Shrimps ($6.90). This sugarcane-enveloping shrimp is quite the typical weapon in the arsenal of large caterers. Light, springy, and delectable.
Crispy Squid, Dill, Green Chillies ($5.50). This appetizer is essentially calamari with some greenish shrimp paste, though the splayed fried batter in the Vietnamese version added a very literal twist that I fancied.
Crispy Fried Sweet Potato Rolls ($3.90). Sturdy until mouth contact, these sticks easily dissolve in the mouth like candy floss but with a distinct sweet potato undertone.
Marinated Fried Pork Cutlet Rice Bowl ($9.90). A delicious pork cutlet served with steamed egg, sliced ham, Viet fishcake, and fresh vegetables, the rice bowls at Comnam come with the option of “flavourful steamed broken rice” or kimchi fried brown rice. While the latter was more palatable to me eventually, there was no reason to skip the signature broken rice.
My first savoury spoonful harkened me back to a morning where I sat in a shabby diner in Hanoi. Much too accurate was the diversity of salty flavours in bite-sized meats with rice that virtually defies any concept of chewing. Broken rice is almost round like mini snowballs and being deceptively light, finishing the rice bowl expeditiously is a simple chore.
Grey Featherback Fish Balls, Soft-Boiled Egg Rice Soup ($7.90). As with Pho and other Viet soups, every bowl arrives dappled with generous servings of spring onions and parsley. Pity those who are averse to these brilliant spices.
Rice soups are like congee, but it really is all about pouring soup over the seabed of broken rice. On the other hand, those luncheon-meat-like fish balls appear to involve rather elaborate preparations. This is a dish both simple and tasty.
Sautéed Lemongrass Pork Slices ($9). Flaps of chicken ham packed with pickles and a sunny side-up gives a healthy contrast of flavours with the deboned barbequed pork ribs that is crispy with just a tinge of spiciness, but I barely could distinguish this from the Marinated Fried Pork Cutlet Rice Bowl.
5-spice Stewed Beef ($9.90). The last broken rice bowl that is topped with stewed beef packing a little toughness, pickled vegetables, and a fried egg was not necessarily spicy (considering spices but add dimensions in taste) but had a rich savoury gravy that nicely coats the little grains.
Salad of Grilled Chicken, White Cabbage, Fresh Herbs, Roasted Peanuts ($5.90). With this refreshing melange of earthiness from the nuts and fibrous crunch from the cabbage, there is no getting enough of the gamut of herbs that Comnam deploys. A more insipid grilled chicken caps the dish off with a splendid neutral base with a muscular texture.
Che Red Bean, Pandan Jelly, Coconut Milk, Palm Sugar ($3.90). If you enjoy cendol composed of tightly packed layers, this glass will be an excellent frosty delight. Midway through it, I considered getting myself another serving of the rare coffee, but decided against the caffeine overload.
All in all, it is heartening to see increasing introductions of the full range of Vietnamese cuisines in Singapore. Save for pricing to accurately reflect a time-encapsulated standard of living, Comnam Broken Rice truly delivers on a genuine Vietnamese commoner’s dining meal, although the modern setting doesn’t fit the cuisine.
Expected damage: $13 – $20 per pax