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‘Morgue sticky rice’: A culinary landmark of Ho Chi Minh City’s China Town

‘Morgue sticky rice’: A culinary landmark of Ho Chi Minh City’s China Town

Monday, May 13, 2024, 09:22 GMT+7
‘Morgue sticky rice’: A culinary landmark of Ho Chi Minh City’s China Town
A portion of the ‘morgue sticky rice’ at the renowned ‘Xôi Mặn’ (Savory Sticky Rice) 409 shop on Tran Phu Street in District 5, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ho Lam / Tuoi Tre

Nestled on Tran Phu Street in District 5, commonly known as the bustling heart of Ho Chi Minh City’s China Town, the renowned Xôi Mặn (Savory Sticky Rice) 409 shop has become a local household name, with intriguing tales surrounding its monikers, including the spooky, yet most used one — ‘morgue sticky rice.'

Sharing the shop’s history with Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper, Luu Bao Minh, son of its founder, revealed that the name ‘morgue sticky rice’ was coined by loyal customers. 

Previously, Minh’s parents operated a sticky rice cart at the intersection of Nguyen Tri Phuong and Tran Phu Streets. 

Over time, their family relocated to the current location on Tran Phu Street.

The renowned ‘Xôi Mặn’ (Savory Sticky Rice) 409 shop on Tran Phu Street in District 5, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ho Lam / Tuoi Tre

The renowned ‘Xôi Mặn’ (Savory Sticky Rice) 409 shop on Tran Phu Street in District 5, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ho Lam / Tuoi Tre

The sticky rice eatery has stood for nearly half a century on Tran Phu Street, which boats two funeral homes, surrounded by hospitals, coffin vendors, and votive paper sellers, hence earning the moniker ‘morgue sticky rice.’

‘It's just stuck, and now everyone refers to our shop as ‘morgue sticky rice’,” Minh said.

“However, our shop has also been known by many other names over the years.”

As the night falls, the shop teems with patrons. 

Three staff members diligently prepare sticky rice, swiftly serving eager customers.

Roasted ground peanuts top the surface of the sticky rice. Photo: Ho Lam / Tuoi Tre

Roasted ground peanuts top the surface of the sticky rice. Photo: Ho Lam / Tuoi Tre

Amid a lull in business, Minh reflected on the various appellations of his family’s establishment.

“At one point, it was dubbed ‘Bouncing Sticky Rice’ because we sold sticky rice from a wooden cart that bounced whenever it was touched,” Minh said. 

“Then, it became ‘Clattering Sticky Rice’ due to the rhythmic clattering of the spoon against the pot."

For the regular theatergoers of the past, Minh’s sticky rice shop was affectionately called ‘Xôi Hào Huê’ as it was situated near the Hao Hue theater, frequented by renowned troupes. 

“Many theatergoers would stop by after shows, as well as famed local comedians like Bao Quoc and Duy Phuong, who would stop over for a portion," Minh reminisced.

A pot of sticky rice billows with steam at the renowned ‘Xôi Mặn’ (Savory Sticky Rice) 409 shop on Tran Phu Street in District 5, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ho Lam / Tuoi Tre

A pot of sticky rice releases billowing steam at the renowned ‘Xôi Mặn’ (Savory Sticky Rice) 409 shop on Tran Phu Street in District 5, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ho Lam / Tuoi Tre

Savory ingredients

Reflecting on his family’s hardships, Minh recalled his parents raising their five children by vending sticky rice on the sidewalk. 

“Despite the difficulties, my parents toiled diligently every day to make ends meet,” Minh said. 

“I joined them in selling sticky rice when I was a student. 

“I cherish and miss them dearly, which is perhaps why I’ve continued this profession.” 

Minh recounted the traditional approach to cooking sticky rice, employing charcoal and wrapping it in banana leaves, a method passed down from his parents.

He continues to uphold this practice, appreciating its rustic charm and eco-friendly nature.

Meat floss is made by the owner of the renowned ‘Xôi Mặn’ (Savory Sticky Rice) 409 shop on Tran Phu Street in District 5, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ho Lam / Tuoi Tre

Meat floss is made by the owner of the renowned ‘Xôi Mặn’ (Savory Sticky Rice) 409 shop on Tran Phu Street in District 5, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Ho Lam / Tuoi Tre

The shop opens at 3:00 pm, with Minh commencing the steaming of sticky rice from noon onward.

With portions priced at VND20,000-30,000 (US$0.8-1.2) apiece, the nightly sales volume fluctuates unpredictably, sometimes bustling with activity, while other times quiet and subdued.

He sources raw sticky rice from a trusted supplier, ensuring uniformity in grain size and optimal steaming for a delectable texture. 

Most patrons favor the savory sticky rice dish, featuring scallion oil, crispy fried shallots, roasted peanuts, and meat floss, all freshly prepared by Minh daily. 

“I prepare scallion oil and crispy fried shallots in small batches to maintain freshness,” Minh said. 

“The peanuts are roasted and ground to a smooth powder, ensuring even distribution when mixed with the rice."

The dish also features ‘lạp xưởng’ (Chinese sausage), procured from a longstanding contact in the Mekong Delta province of Soc Trang. Photo: Ho Lam / Tuoi Tre

The dish also features ‘lạp xưởng’ (Chinese sausage), procured from a longstanding contact in the Mekong Delta province of Soc Trang. Photo: Ho Lam / Tuoi Tre

The dish also features lạp xưởng (Chinese sausage), procured from a longstanding contact in the Mekong Delta province of Soc Trang and renowned for its traditional flavor. 

As the clock neared 9:00 pm, the steam from the pot of sticky rice lingered, awaiting service to the eager queue of customers, predominantly elderly Chinese residents of District 5, with whom Minh converses fluently in Chinese. 

“We’ve known many of these Chinese customers for decades,” Minh said. 

“They’ve been regulars since my parents’ time. 

“Even after living abroad for 30-40 years, when they return to Saigon, they visit us.” 

Nearly half a century since its inception, evolving from a humble cart to a proper eatery, the ‘morgue sticky rice’ shop has undoubtedly left an indelible mark on the cultural and culinary scenes of District 5.

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Bao Anh - Ho Lam / Tuoi Tre News

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