A batch of rice in which the grains remain distinct is called cơm rời (separated rice), while rice that has been compacted by hand into dense balls or logs is called cơm nắm (pressed rice). Like Japanese onigiri (rice balls), cơm nắm is both shaped and eaten by hand. You simply pick up a piece, press it against a boldly flavored food like Caramelized Minced Pork, Cotton Pork, or sesame salt (see Note), and pop the morsel into your mouth.
For many Vietnamese of my parents’ generation, cơm nắm is an old-fashioned food that conjures up memories of home, perhaps because it was a creative way for moms to get their kids to eat more rice, the main source of sustenance. As a reminder of such times, my dad regularly prepared cơm nắm and then presliced it for family road trips, picnics, and whenever we wanted a fun alternative to eating rice from a bowl.