Wherever you go in Vietnam, people are obsessed with rice. From rice at every family meal to rice noodles, rice porridge, sticky rice, fried rice, rice paper wrappers, dumplings, rice cakes to rice wine, it’s hard not to consume some form of rice each day.
Of the many varieties of rice, sticky glutinous rice or xoi is a firm favourite. An indispensable part of this country’s culinary tradition, every traditional woman knows how to cook xoi, and will prepare it for special feasts like weddings and Tet.
In Hanoi, xoi is as much a staple as pho or bun. In the morning, you will come across female vendors selling this carbohydrate-rich breakfast dish wrapped in banana or lotus leaf. This is the traditional version of xoi, which is rustic, simple sticky rice with natural ingredients grown in the villages of Vietnam, like beans, peanuts and corn.
Yet people nowadays, especially younger people, also love the modern version with a wide range of mix-ins like chicken breast, steamed pork and egg. Many modern xoi eateries have grown in popularity in the past few years. It is said that it was only in the late 1990s that people started selling xoi with meat. Since then, both xoi with meat and rustic xoi have become a part of the culinary landscape.
Say it with Meat
Like many others, I often head for xoi with meat for dinner or as a late night snack. And one of my favourite eateries is Xoi Xiu (145E Yen Phu, Tay Ho) run by a group of sisters born and raised in Hanoi.
The eatery offers the normal, white version of xoi with various mix-ins such as char-siu pork or thit xa xiu, Vietnamese sausage — gio and cha — slow-cooked pork or thit kho, Chinese sausage or lap suong, paté, whole egg or omelette. You can choose your toppings according to taste.
Yet the main ingredient, xoi, is always the star of the show. The sticky rice is fragrant and well-seasoned with the right amount of salt. It’s a winner for both taste and texture.
“I have cooked xoi and run this eatery since 1995,” says Xiu, the eatery owner. “It has been more than 20 years and I have always been strict in picking the right type of glutinous rice or my xoi would taste bland. It’s a special type of rice from Hai Hau in Nam Dinh.”
Among the toppings, I would recommend the thit xa xiu or char-siu pork, which is tender, juicy and flavourful.
“We use pork shoulder to prevent the char-siu pork being either dry or fatty,” continues Xiu. “A balanced mix of sweet and savoury ingredients enhances the flavour and the browning of the pork. I use the oil to slowly cook the pork and the browning colour of pork is natural.”
What makes me more surprised is that almost all the mix-ins are prepared by the eatery itself, except for the Chinese sausage.
“I had the idea of opening a xoi shop, and then I asked my sisters to prepare other toppings,” explains Xiu. “That way we can control the quality of what we offer to customers, and of course, our family members have jobs. That’s the way many traditional Hanoi families often work.”
Among the mix-ins, their homemade Vietnamese sausage — gio and cha — is excellent. The cha has a pleasant cinnamon aftertaste. Another plus point is their papaya salad which is also delicious, with a taste that’s hard to find in other xoi eateries in town.
As autumn starts giving way to winter, it’s nice to have something hot like a bowl of xoi. And Xoi Xiu is a great place to either stop by and enjoy your food while talking to the friendly ladies or pick your xoi up to go.
Xoi Xiu is located at 145E Yen Phu, Tay Ho and is open from 5am to 10am for breakfast and from 4pm to around 10pm for dinner. A portion of xoi costs from VND15,000 to 55,000 depending on the mix-ins you choose