Com Tam Thien Huong (San Jose, CA)

8:00:00 AM

If it’s not broken, don’t fix it-- especially if it’s Com Tam

To give you a little more background about myself, my parents are from Vietnam, but my grandparents are from China. So when I was growing up, I was exposed to Chinese and also Vietnamese cuisine.

Now when you ask people about Vietnamese food, the first thing that comes to mind is Pho. That and Bánh mì.  But there is so much more to Vietnamese food than the hearty beef noodle soup and crunchy, yet fluffy sandwiches.

Today, we’re talking about Com Tam (literal translation: broken rice). My mom is from Saigon (now known as Ho Chi Minh City), which is located in Southern Vietnam and this is a popular dish from that region.

To break it down, it’s usually served with grilled pork, (thinly sliced pork and pork skin), grilled sugar cane wrapped with shrimp paste, fried shrimp cake, steamed egg cake, pickled carrots and daikon, a small salad and a side of broth. While it’s usually not everything on a plate, it’s a mixture of two or more when you order.

They open pretty early in the morning, but I never saw Com Tam as something you'll eat for breakfast.
Com Tam Thien Huong has a number of stores and is a fairly well known establishment in San Jose, especially around the Little Saigon area. Like their namesake, the restaurant is known for their Com Tam. However, they also serve pho for those who don’t feel like eating rice.

I went to the one located on Capitol Expressway, intersecting Silver Creek. This place gets pretty crowded on a weekend afternoon. The first time I went with my aunt, we had to wait half an hour for a seat on a Sunday afternoon at about 11:30. When I went the second time (not too long ago), we were able to get a table just fine despite it being a Sunday night. I found that a little odd, but I’m not complaining!

The restaurant has an interesting choice of decor. The interior of the restaurant is brightly lit with mini-LED lights wrapping over the circumference of the restaurant. The lights hanging around the restaurant are bulbous, bright and sparkly, but not necessarily in a helpful “illuminating” way so that you can see the menu.  The decor even extends to their restrooms. Enter in and you feel like you stepped briefly into Saturday Night Fever club-- but it’s a restroom.

They have a pretty extensive menu with numerous combinations for the rice plates. We have your standard grilled pork, your BBQ ribs, shredded pork, grilled chicken, grilled shrimp and many others mixed and match till you find one to your pleasing.  

Not included in the photo is the broth and the bowl of fish sauce.
I ordered the grilled chicken with fried shrimp cake. They don’t flake when it comes to the portion and I usually end up with leftover rice and soup. Their chicken is juicy and flavorful with a slight smokiness to it, but not overwhelming. The shrimp cake wrapped in the bean curd is crisp and flaky. And I really like their broken rice. Some restaurants serve very bland and hard broken rice, but they always have the right texture and is fluffy and light.

Random: I always thought that fluffy was an odd word to describe rice. There are many pets named fluffy (A particular three-headed dog, ring a bell?) and there are many animals that are fluffy and a souffle may be fluffy, but rice? Not my first choice, but I can’t think of a better word for it.

After you finish your meal, you pay up in front and leave your tip on the table. You can also leave it in the front or write it down if you pay by credit card, but I find it simpler to put it on the table.

TIP: For those who are handy in the kitchen and don’t want to break the bank

You can purchase the grilled meats separately, sans the broken rice, steamed egg and etc. This can a convenient option for those who just want to pop the broken rice into their rice cooker and swing over to the restaurant to pick up the grilled meats.

I believe they sell it by slices, so if you’re a kitchen goddess like my mother, that’s what we usually end up doing. She makes the rice, the steamed egg, the side salads-- basically everything, and my dad goes over to pick up the meat. Overall, it’s cheaper and it’s great for those lazy cooking days. But if you have the time, why not check out… the glitzy disco ball restaurant?

I have yet to decide whether or not I really like it, but it’s certainly something.

Have you ever tried Com Tam? If so, what’s your usual go-to combinations? Or better yet, do you swear by a certain restaurant? If so, where?

Com Tam Thien Huong
1759 E Capitol Expy
San Jose, CA 95121

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