Updated: Mar 1
Xôi, or sticky rice (also known as glutinous rice), plays an extremely important role in Vietnam’s national cuisine. The origin of how sticky rice came to Vietnam dates back to thousands of years ago. Vietnam is a large country composed of many different climates, as a result of this, there are different agricultural practices and yields in different regions, which led to a wide variety of xôi. Although sticky rice is a common breakfast meal, it can also be eaten at any other time of the day. At first glance, most people assume the various colorful xôi found in Vietnam are made with artificial dye, but in actuality, these are all made from natural dyes available in our region.
To discuss every single dish made with xôi would be impossible due to the great cultural importance it has in every Vietnamese household, but what we can do is give you some of our favorites:
Xôi Xéo is the ✨golden✨ breakfast dish that you MUST eat if you visit Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi. It is sticky rice that is colored into this beautiful golden hue with the use of turmeric and is topped with mung bean, shallots, and a drizzle of melted chicken fat. This is a unique dish that is hard to find even in other parts of Vietnam so the chances of you finding this dish anywhere else in the world is probably one a million!
Xôi Lá Cẩm
Xôi lá cẩm get its vibrant purple color through naturally dying the sticky rice grains by boiling them with magenta leaves (lá cẩm). Afterwards, it is steamed with coconut, milk, and sugar and served with freshly grated coconut, peanuts, sugar and salt, and sometimes even mung bean paste or sesame seeds. This is one of our all-time favorites, and a trip home isn’t complete without having some of this sticky rice.
Xôi Gấc gets its orange-red color from the fruit gấc which originally comes from Vietnam but is now grown across Southeast Asia. Because red is a color that is considered lucky across all Asian cultures, you can typically find this sticky rice at special events like Tết (Lunar New Year) and weddings. This sticky rice can be eaten plain, but can also be made into sweet or savory dishes depending on simple toppings that can be added like sugar, or Vietnamese ham (chả lụa).
Xôi Mặn literally translates to savory sticky rice, and can be found not only everywhere in Vietnam, but also at your local Vietnamese restaurant. This sticky rice is easily one of the most popular of the bunch, and there are different twists to it not only between different regions of Vietnam but also between individual vendors. Common toppings are pate, pork floss, Vietnamese ham (chả lụa), lạp xưởng (lap cheong), and scallion oil, but you can also find different variations of it like xôi gà (chicken sticky rice – recipe & video) and xôi xá xíu (BBQ pork sticky rice).
Other uses for sticky rice in Vietnam
Aside from traditional sticky rice dishes, bánh chưng, which is a sticky rice cake, plays a significant role in Vietnam’s biggest holiday, Tết (Lunar New Year). There are various other sticky rice cakes that Vietnamese households celebrate Tết with like bánh giầy and bánh tét, but bánh chưng is definitely one of the more popular ones, especially in Northern Vietnam. Dong leaves are used to wrap the sticky rice and its fillings (pork belly and mung bean) and then it is boiled in a big pot for 10+ hours where the final product is these perfect square-shaped cakes. Sticky rice is also a staple in many other Asian cultures, like Thailand’s mango sticky rice, and China’s forbidden rice, and is known to be a lot healthier and more nutritious than regular rice. Sticky rice can be found in pretty much every Asian supermarket so why not try something new and make some sticky rice for yourself? We’ve got a great chicken sticky rice (xôi gà) recipe and video just for you!