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Sunday, February 5, 2012

Southern Cuisine - Rooting Taste

Exhaustedly nostalgic one may feel. It turns out that under the gorgeous cover of cuisine culture is the core of the Vietnamese’s affection and moral principles. The Southern food is special in the way it is made that bears its own nuance and distinctively sweet flavour from the smell of vast countryside soil, the sweetness of impetuous rivers and canals during flood seasons, the immense Southwestern nautical wind, and the somber solemnity of layers after layers of prime forests and mountainous areas. That is the initial “row material”, reserving only for this delta where becomes “dat lanh chim dau” (good land for birds to perch) with favorable weather and more and more prosperous as a saying: “Ruong dong mac suc chim bay/ Bien ho lai lang ma bay ca dua” (Paddy fields boundless for birds to fly/ Rivers and lakes profuse for flocks of fish to race). Therefore, one cannot fine “Cho Dao rice”; the salted fish hot pot in “magnificent Ha Noi” even made by a An Giang chef may not surpass “the original” in the Southern land…
Bánh khoai mì
It is remarked that the Southern land’s cuisine is likened to a countryside girl that is naturally beautiful despite not wearing her make-up. Once talking about the dish of ca ro kho tieu (anabas braised with fish sauce and black pepper), Son Nam, the famed culturist, described like this: “Anabas is the king of freshwater fish, fish sauce is the cream of the ocean, sprinkling with a little black pepper is to take mountainous flavours…” Just as a popular dish but it collects all the nature’s flavours and represents the culture of a country. On this southernmost land, people have made the best of the nature for creating unique specialties at will in order to express the manner and hallmark of those once reclaiming the region – that is pioneering, carefree, not finical and nor standing on ceremony in disposition.
Banh u
Cá kho tộ
The fine cuisine of the Southern land (and Vietnam) implies the profound cultural strength which links not only space and time, tradition and modernity but human spirit and thought as well. In the framework of the program “Mekong River: Connecting cultures” organized in Washington D.C (USA) in 2007 by Smithsonian Institute, Artisan Nguyen Thi Xiem (67, from Tra Noc ward, Binh Thuy district – Can Tho) demonstrated the skill of making banh xeo (rice pancake folded in half filled with shrimp, meat and bean sprouts), banh tet (cylindrical sticky rice cake filled with green bean paste and fat pork), banh it tran (sticky rice patty)… which received great acclaim. Many audiences invited her to their houses, offered gifts… Not to mention the tastiness of the cakes she made, the fact she selected on her own the rice for grinding into flour, finding banana leaves for fastening cakes aroused the faded memory of Vietnamese overseas and revived their national love. Enjoying her cakes all of a sudden recalled them to the images of river and wharf in their childhood, their dedicated mother being wrapped up in cooking banh tet on the days approaching the lunar New Year, the fragrant smoke of burning rice straw spreading at sunset, the homeland flavour featuring cau khi (monkey bridge – a bridge make from a single tree trunk), pond unwavering, bunches of sweet carambola and storks gently gliding… 
Bánh ít trần
“Love towards the country is the longing and craving for the dishes fed by our parents when we were young”. As the time goes by, those plain foods and charming flavours sill imprint on their mind despite how far they may go. And strange as it is, the further one goes, the more anxiously.
Goi tep
Bánh chuối nướng
The program “Fine cuisine of South reclamation” has given rise to the trend towards origin cuisine of the former reclamation period amid the Vietnam integration into the world. Plain dishes such as ca loc nuong trui (grilled-straw snakehead fish), ran nuong leo (snake baked on the fire), mam kho (cooked salted fish), mam song (raw salted fish), chuot dong ro ti (roasted field mouse in coconut juice), luon hap trai bau (eel steamed with gourd), ech xao lan (frogs stir-fried with little or no water), ca ro kho to (anabas braised in earthenware pot), ca bong dua kho tieu (sand goby simmered in fish sauce with black pepper), canh chua ca loc (snake-head fish sour soup), hu tieu My Tho (My Tho – style thin rice noodle), tom lui Bac Lieu (Bac Lieu – style roasted shrimp sticks), nam tram Phu Quoc (Phu Quoc cajuput mushrooms)… still rise to fame as specialties which win the heart of diners right in prosperous urban areas. They also choose to enjoy those dishes in the most popular way possible. As for broiling, there are so many various ways: broil under burning charcoal, broil with a stick, plain broil, broil in jar, broil with straw, broil with clay cover, broil in bamboo tube…
Gỏi cá trê vàng
Bánh tét Trà Cuôn
For Chau Doc – style salted fish hot pot, it is fashionable for diners to consume with two dozens of rural herbs and vegetables like cu neo, tai tuong, cang cua, so dua flower, dien dien flower… The “Ca com de nhat name” (number one anchovy fermented roll) is typical for the delicacy of countryside dished. Fresh anchovy is washed off scales, and then soaked in salty water until their bodies are spliced. After taken out of the water, the fish is boned before steeped in fresh coconut juice for some time. Again get the fish out to dry and filter through a very thin cloth, squeeze dry then pounding them well with broiled garlic and many different spices (salt, sugar, fat, ground black pepper, galingale extract and powdered grilled rice…). After being rolled into galls, they are first wrapped in young leaves of chum ruot (a kind of fruit tree), then vong nem leaves and finally banana leaves, and stringed in the cruciform… The fine cuisine of Southern Vietnam is filled with the world of rural produce rich in materials, colors in harmony with the breath of expansive gardens and long rivers.

(Mekong Delta Tourism Guidbook – VCCI Can Tho – www.vccimekong.com.vn)