Xoi Gac is a semi-sweet dish made from steamed glutinous rice that has been tossed in coconut milk and naturally colored orange-red from the gac fruit. The color red is symbolic of good fortune in Vietnamese culture, which is why Xoi Gac is mainly served during special occasions such as Lunar New Year, engagements, and weddings.
This dish is often eaten with a mixture of sugar, salt, and toasted sesame seeds (muoi me). Xoi Gac is also a popular streetfood and can be more elaborately dressed with sweetened mung bean paste, toasted peanuts, and freshly grated coconut — all wrapped in an edible wafer paper.
Xoi Gac features the intense orange-reddish color from the gac fruit. This fruit is also known as baby jackfruit, but don’t mistaken it with the jackfruit with the sweet yellow pulp.
Other common names include Spiny Bitter Gourd, Sweet Gourd and Cochinchin Gourd. Because the gac fruit originated in Vietnam, it’s more known by its Vietnamese name, Gac.
The pulp is collected from the fruit then blended into a homogenous paste. This pulp gives a bright red-orange color and a subtle aroma and flavor to Xoi Gac. Because the aroma and flavor are quite subtle, you can also use food coloring as a substitute.
The large black seed in the middle of the pulp is often saved to top the sweet rice as an indication of authenticity — that natural food coloring from the gac fruit was used.
Gac fruit is widely available in Vietnam but not here in the States. I have yet to find a fresh gac fruit where I live in California. And if I do, it would most likely cost a fortune per lb. I, however, can find frozen gac fruit pulp in the frozen aisle of my local Vietnamese grocery store, which is more reasonably priced.
Vietnamese Red Sticky Rice (Xoi Gac)
1-½ lbs sweet/glutinous rice grains
8.5 fl oz / 250 mL coconut milk
⅓ cup granulated white sugar
½ teaspoon sea salt
½ cup gac fruit paste
Xoi Muoi Me Topping (Optional)
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
½ teaspoon sea salt
Rinse the rice grains in a colander until water runs clear then soak for 3 hours in plenty of water. Drain then transfer to a large mixing bowl and mix with salt.
Stir in the gac fruit paste into the rice until all the grains are colored.
Place colored rice into a large steamer in an even layer. On medium-low heat, steam for 30 minutes, covered.
Carefully remove the lid and mix in coconut milk and sugar until evenly combined. Continue steaming for an additional 15 minutes.
Remove rice from the steamer and decorate with the dried gac seed on top to indicate it was naturally colored (optional). Serve as is or with the topping. To make the topping, simply combine toasted sesame seeds, sugar, and salt in a small bowl. Sprinkle the mixture onto the rice before serving. You can fancy it up even more with sweetened mung bean paste, toasted chopped peanuts, and freshly grated coconuts, as pictured.