Xoi man (savory sticky rice) is a staple of Vietnamese cuisine, universally loved for its inexpensive price and bold flavor.
It is available in practically every neighborhood in Saigon from early morning to late at night.
Sticky rice has long been a local favorite thanks to how long it keeps eaters full.
Each stall has its own way of cooking different types of glutinous rice to get the perfect stickiness.
Because of its high calorie content, glutinous rice's starch keeps diners full for longer than other starchy items like vermicelli, bread, and rice noodles.
Although there are many xoi man stalls in the city, it is not always easy to find the perfect plate of this storied dish.
|Thu serves 'xoi ga' to her customers at her stall in District 1, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Minh Duc / Tuoi Tre|
Traditionally, xoi man is topped with pork floss, a few slices of cha lua (Vietnamese pork sausage), sauce, a few pieces of lap xuong (dry-cured sausage), and quail eggs.
Nowadays, a variety of savory versions of sticky rice are popping up throughout the city, including xoi pha lau (savory sticky rice with braised pork offal), xoi tom kho (sticky rice with tiny dry shrimp), and xoi ga (sticky rice with chicken).
However, no two xoi man stalls are alike and the taste of each dish varies by location.
Among Saigon’s xoi man stalls, Xoi Ga Co Thu is a contender for the most popular title thanks to its delicious sticky rice and thirty-year history of serving up the dish at 103 Yersin Street in District 1 every morning.
|Homemade ingredients are a staple at 'Xoi Ga Co Thu.' Photo: Minh Duc / Tuoi Tre|
Each day, a long queue eagerly awaits a plate of sticky rice from Xoi Ga Co Thu.
Xoi Ga Co Thu is topped with shredded chicken that has been simmered until it is flavorful and rimmed to taste.
Thu, the seller, also makes the sauce for the sticky rice from rimmed chicken broth.
Although it appears simple, not many xoi man stalls take advantage of it. The majority of chicken sticky rice is fried chicken with oil, and the flavor is usually rather bland.
|Thu serves 'xoi man' to her customer at her stall in District 1, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Minh Duc / Tuoi Tre|
It must be served with additional condiments like chili and soy sauce, which causes the sticky rice to lose its flavor.
“Ingredients all rose in price after the COVID-19 outbreak, but I still didn’t dare to raise the price of my sticky rice," Thu said.
"Even if I only raised the price slightly, I would feel embarrassed in front of my regular customers.
“Many people visit my stall to eat xoi man because the flavor of my sticky rice reminds them of their childhood.
"I'm aware of that, so I never make any changes.
"I prepare all of the ingredients myself."
Thu mentioned a 'childhood' flavour called xa bau (Chinese salted radish).
Saigonese must have been captivated by the crispy, salty taste of xa bau, yet many vendors eliminated this component in order to reduce the steps involved in making xoi man.
|A dish of 'xoi ga' topped with pork floss, 'xa bau' (Chinese salted radish), 'lap xuong' (dry-cured sausage), and shredded chicken. Photo: Minh Duc / Tuoi Tre|
Because xoi ga may be eaten at any time of the day, Thu also takes her stand to Phan Van Truong Street in District 1 at 4:00 pm.
Some of her customers are elementary school students when they first visited her stall, and they continue to do so even if they have grown up, married, or given birth.
Her sticky rice sells for just VND25,000 (US$1.08) per portion and comes with a variety of toppings including shredded chicken, sausages, omelette, quail eggs, radish, and fried chicken skin with fish sauce.
One box can keep diners satiated until midday.
When asked why she did not find a fixed place, Thu simply smiled and replied that she was used to it and was scared that customers would not stop by if she opened a formal joint.