Vietnam’s southern provinces are not only famous for its poetic rivers and evergreen rice fields but also well known for popular dishes made from local specific materials.
When it comes to cakes, women in such provinces as Sa Dec, Long Xuyen, Vinh Long and Rach Gia can compete with each other in making various cakes, including “bánh bò” (sweet, chewy sponge cake), “bánh bột lọc” (cassava cake packed with shrimp), “bánh ít trần” (stuffed glutinous rice flour balls), “bánh ướt” (steamed rice paper), etc.
They also serve their guests with “bánh hỏi thịt quay” (roasted pork served with extremely thin noodle that is woven into intricate bundles), “bò gác tréo” (a whole young cow grilled on coal-fired oven), “vịt tiềm” (stew duck), “dưa đầu heo” (preserved pork head meat), “mắm tôm” (shrimp paste), and some other specialties.
Among the most popular dishes is "Giang Nam Dã Hạc," with “Giang Nam” being China’s Jiangnan province, “dã” meaning “field,” and “hạc” meaning “crane”. The whole name means “a crane perching on a field in Jiangnan.”
“Giang Nam Dã Hạc” is a high nutritious food arranged subtly and aesthetically. It is actually a roasted hen placed above four layers of different “eggs” between which are cooked bamboo shouts. Underneath the last layer is the fried rice.
The food’s ingredients include young hen, pig brain, pig gut, shrimp, crab, sparrow, sausage, dried meat, ginger, lemon, white wine, peanuts, sesame sauce, Chinese soybean paste, coconut milk, pig’s omental fat, flour, onion, water chestnut, pepper, sugar, pine mushroom, and fresh bamboo shoots.
Imagine a large plate of food placed on a dining table for five diners. A bunch of paper flowers is designed to cover the plate, drawing the attention of diners who wonder what they are about to enjoy. When the bunch of flowers is put aside, dinners see the plate filled with the multilayer foods, top of which is a yellow roasted chicken posed as an egg-incubating chicken.
The chicken, which is already divided into several parts, is brought down to another plate and then shared among the diners. Following the chicken is a layer of what so called the “hatching eggs”, which are actually cooked baby birds, like sparrows, each of which is put in a piece of pig intestines designed to look like an egg shell, with the bird’s head sticking out of the shell. Beneath the eggs are the boiled bamboo shoots arranged to look like straw that chickens usually use to lay and hatch their eggs.
After this layer is another layer of “addled eggs,” as their color is similar to that of addled chicken eggs. In fact, the specialty is made from pig liver, beans, sesame, soy sauce, coconut milk and pig brain, all wrapped with pig’s omental fat and then covered with a piece of pig’s intestine pieces. Such the eggs are baked first and then fried. The dish is served with bamboo shouts simmered with coconut milk.
Then comes the layer of “mature eggs,” which are made from shrimp, flour and water chestnut. The dish is served with boiled bamboo shouts. The last layer is the “young eggs”, prepared from dried pork, sausage, crab meat, onion, and mushroom, all mixed together and stuffed in pork intestine. The “eggs” is boiled first and then fried. It is also served with cooked bamboo shouts.
After these four layers, dinners can enjoy the fried rice that comes last on the plate.
Another attractive dish is the “crossed beef”. Imagine a young cow roasted above an outdoor coal-fired oven, which is surrounded by some tables for rice paper, vegetables and sauce. Eaters use sharp knives to pierce into the skin of the cow and then slit it to expose the flesh. Such a party is usually set up in gardens.
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Some other delicious dishes are grilled snakehead fish covered with banana ocrea, grilled duck covered with clay, and shrimp dipped in coconut milk. These dishes are quite complicated but are very attractive to gourmets.
Simpler dishes include anabas braised in a caramel or clay pot; sour soups with snake-head fish, tra fish, shark catfish; or grilled walking catfish served with ginger fish sauce.
Meanwhile, dog meat is seen as an unusual dish, since the dog is considered as a symbol of loyalty. In rural areas, eating dog meat is a chance to gather friends for joy. Dog meat can be used in place of venison, so it is prepared the same as weasel or snake meat. Accordingly, there are several dishes from dog meat, including stir-fried dog meat, minced dog meat served with rice paper, and dog meatballs. Dog meat can also be prepared in style of the seven-course beef.
On nights with bright moonlight, people who like singing while drinking and eating often gather on some small boats on the Tien or Hau River. On these boats, they play traditional music, chant poems, tell humorous stories, and enjoy countryside dishes, like fresh shrimps grilled over a coal fired oven. Such parties can last until the decline of the moon.