Flying Rice

Ready to crack clay pot and send the
disc of rice flying across the hall!
My eyes did not miss that pile of broken ceramic pieces lying on the floor in a corner of the dining hall at Com Nieu Sai Gon Vietnamese Gastronomy Restaurant. I privately wonder why they are so tardy in keeping the dining area neat and clean because this is a restaurant that is recommended for tourists.  Since arriving in Ho Chih Min City, our group has savoured a range of delightful Vietnamese delicacies and I’m ready to enjoy the next meal so I try to forget about that pile of broken ceramic on the floor.

As we sink our teeth into fresh Vietnamese summer rolls, the next course of beef salad and pumpkin flowers appetizers is served.  The food is good and my attention is focused on choosing which sauce dip to go with which food.  I’m so distracted by the delicious meal and quite oblivious of the preparation happening in the corners of the dining hall.  I later learnt that the serving staff is trained to serve a baked rice dish, Com Nieu, in an entertaining crashing and throwing show!

The crusty disc of rice is cut into quarters
Suddenly, I notice a hush in the dining hall and look up to see a waiter standing in one corner with arms raised.  He is holding a claypot in one hand and a hammer in the other.  I guess he paused long enough to get the diners attention and to coordinate his moves with the other waiter standing across the hall because what he is about to do, requires skill and precision.

By now the diners are anticipating the excitement but nothing prepared me for the loud “crack” when the waiter smashed the claypot in one huge blow with the hammer.  As the broken pieces of claypot crash to the floor and shatter into smaller pieces, I realise this is the reason for the debris I saw when I came into the dining hall! 

He skillfully retrieved the disc of hot crusty rice in his gloved hand, and with a deft flick of the wrist, he tossed the rice which flew across the hall like a flying saucer!

The quartered disc of rice is topped with fish sauce,
black sesame seeds, black pepper and chopped scallion
before serving
In the opposite corner of the hall, another waiter used a plate like a catcher’s mitt to receive the flying rice disc.  When he catches it neatly in the plate, the diners respond with loud applause.  He flips the disc around in the air a few more times before cutting it into quarters and drizzling it with sauce, black sesame seeds and black pepper, and garnished with chopped scallion.  I’m glad more than one table is served the “flying rice” because it gave us more opportunities to watch the staff’s skills in rice-throwing. 

When our “flying rice” is served, we are thrilled to find that it tastes rather chewy and is still warm.  It is a simple dish of soft sticky rice within a crunchy coat, fragrant with nouc mam or fish sauce, sesame seeds and pepper flavours but worth every bite because it comes with such an interesting show. 

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Life & Times on 4 July 2013

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