Tuesday, 01/08/2017 10:27

Two Nam Dinh dishes that make you feel good

Special omelette: Chicken eggs cooked with mugwort leaves.
Viet Nam News

By Ha Nguyen

As in other countries with rich culinary traditions, many Vietnamese dishes showcase so much variety that although they carry a common name, they come in completely different flavours, textures and tastes.

This column has already described several kinds of noodle soups from different parts of the country.

Another such dish with variety is nem, which can be said to be a generic name for hundreds of dishes.

Among the hundreds of nem varieties that find their place on Vietnamese food trays every day, a prominent one is a specialty of the Red River Delta province of Nam Dinh.

The province has had a noble claim to fame as a place where people have always been thirsty to learn, but it is not mentioned as often that it Nam Dinh has also served up some unique additions to the nation’s menu.

Two of them are nem Giao Thuy and ngai cuu trung ga (mugwort with chicken eggs), dishes you cannot forget once you’ve tasted them.

Nem Giao Thuy

More than 700 years ago, after enjoying nem made by the people of Giao Thuy people, the Tran King heaped praises on the dish, saying it was perfect. Since then, this dish has been part of offerings to kings, the lore goes.

At the ripe old age of 89, Giao Thuy elder Nguyen Van Chau, doyen among nem makers, does not tire of dropping names to show how much the dish has been appreciated through the ages.

Renowned poet Tan Da (1880-1939), a super gourmet, was so passionate about this dish that he said he felt as if he was in love with a pretty girl, Chau said.

In the modern times, whenever former national football team coach Henrique Calisto of Portugal took his team to the province, he specifically asked for this dish, Chau added.

Making nem Giao Thuy is a sophisticated process, Chau said.

His family orders pig raised without industrial animal feed. The meat should be processed right after the pig is killed to ensure the meat is pork soft and fresh.

After cutting the pork skin and lean meat separately, the pork skin is boiled for two minutes and let cool before it is cut into thin slices. The lean pork is done to a turn before it is cut it into thin threads, said Chau.

“The most difficult thing is ensuring that the thin pork skin slices are still soft and crispy,” he said. But what gives this nem its distinctive aroma is thinh (roasted rice powder)

Chau said they only use the Hai Hau fragrant rice to make this nem. The rice is soaked in water overnight and let dry before it is roasted until it turns ivory-coloured, and then ground to powder.

The last part of the process is mixing these ingredients with Nam Dinh’s famous Sa Chau fish sauce and garlic. The mixture should be crushed well so that all ingredients stick together. This is them made into small balls, and wrapped in fig and then banana leaves for fermenting.

To Minh Son, 65, a native of the northern province of Quang Ninh, is addicted to the dish. He said he “saw the universe” in a bowl of nem Giao Thuy.

One of the best ways to enjoy this dish is to have it along with sips of Binh Ri wine made from nep cai hoa vang (high quality glutinous rice) by residents of Thuc Hoa Village in Nam Dinh’s Giao Thuy District.

A folk verse in praise of this combination goes, “Tay cam bau ruou nam nem. Mai vui quen het loi em dan do,” roughly meaning: While enjoying such nem and wine, men forget everything including their wives’ words.

Delicious medicine

Omelettes made with chicken eggs and chopped mugowrt leaves are probably among the healthiest and tastiest ways to have eggs.

This popular dish is known as a Nam Dinh specialty. 

Pham Thanh Van, 79, of Nam Dinh’s Hai Hau District is well known for her ngai cuu trung ga.

While the dish has existed for hundreds of years, Van said he herself learnt it from her grandmother, who discovered the recipe by accident.

Noticing a plant growing wild in the garden, her grandmother first thought it was a weed, but when she plucked its leaves, she was struck by its fragrance.

“Grandmother took handful of the leaves home, chopped and mixed them with a chicken egg and fried it. It turned out be an inspired creation, so tasty that everyone in the family wanted more.”

At first, her grandmother cooked the dish at weekends for the family, and later, began to sell it in the local rural market.

The dish sold so well that she was able to raise her family on the income.

Herbalist Nguyen Van Tuat with the National Traditional Medicine Institute said the bitter mugwort was very good for people to warm their bodies in winter.

“It is particularly very good for menstruating and pregnant women. It is also good for people with chronic illnesses and those suffering from fatigue.”

The herb has other uses as well. People with back pain can warm up the leaves and lie on them. Mothers can use the leaves to treat prickly heat in children by bathing them with the crushed leaves, Tuat said.

The mugwort-chicken egg combination is jot just nutritious food, it also helps treat headaches and stomachache, he said.

He said those who cannot get fresh ngai cuu everyday can dry the leaves and distil it to make an oil to to treat dry cough and asthma.

Furthermore, one can use crushed fresh mugwort leaves for a face mask, said Tuat.

In the past, ngai cuu was also said to keep ghosts away.—VNS

Kicker: Many people are interested in fried mugwort with chicken eggs.
Sophistication: A bowl of nem Giao Thuy takes a lot preparation.
Medicinal properties: Ngai cuu (mugwort) leaves are not just used to make good food, they also make for good medicine. Photos dulichnamdinh.com

Comments (0)

Related content