Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Americans go for supersized pancakes, a stereotypical English breakfast would comprise of eggs, bacons, sausages, fried bread, baked beans, and mushrooms, and a Finnish breakfast is a hot coffee with vodka accompanied by a hearty cigarette.
Jokes aside, everybody wakes up each morning with an empty stomach and the desire to go back to sleep. Most of us do have things to attend to and roll out of bed, finish our morning routine, then head to breakfast.
For many Vietnamese, breakfast is enjoyed outside. There are quite few rules to what constitutes a breakfast in Vietnam. It can range from a steamed bun to a heavy bowl of Pho. Xôi – or sticky rice dishes – is a popular breakfast food. There are many types of Xôi, all made with glutinous rice, the difference is in the add-ons – mung beans, boiled peanuts, floss, pork, eggs,… Types of Xôi with meat add-ons are considered more “posh” while the vegetarian alternatives are considered more “street”. There are also sweet versions which are commonly eaten as desserts. Nutritionally, both types are packed with energy, perfect to jump start the day with plenty of carbs and protein. That coupled with the fact that’s it’s convenient to get and also very cheap make it a preferred breakfast food amongst the Vietnamese – from students to white collar workers.
Xôi is at heart and historically a street food. But it is not only a street food or breakfast food though. Major religious rituals and cultural holidays call for a plate of Xôi.
Xôi Gac a.k.a Red Sticky Rice – made with “baby jackfruit”, “sweet gourd”, or “Momordica cochinchinensis”, a staple during Tet holiday. Source: theravenouscouple
How it’s made
Cooking Xôi involves soaking the grains in water for a few hours until they have absorbed enough. Then the remaining water is drained and the grain is steamed dry with salt to taste or added ingredients depending on the desired Xôi dish, resulting in a sticky, chewey, soft rice dish.
A traditional Xôi-cooking set-up.
A more modern Xôi-cooking apparatus.
Where to find Xôi in Vietnam
Xôi are usually sold by street vendors. Set-ups for Xôi vendors are very simple and mobile. Vendors also extremely accommodating to customers, adding or reducing quantities of ingredients as requested. The ability to actively participate in making one’s meal makes buying Xôi from street vendors a holistic experience that’s really quite fun.
A Xôi vendor at work. Source: Foody.vn
Nowadays many restaurants also serve Xôi, but it is recommended that one tries the street vendor’s Xôi atleast once when visiting vietnam. Aside from a very different dining experience, you might find that it tastes a little different too.
Vietcentric's vegetarian Xôi.
Xôi is such an integral part of the culture that it has made its way into Vietnamese literature, getting mentioned in poems and novels. Many p