Tuesday, 08/01/2019 09:00

Xôi trám, a specialty of Cao Bằng

Sticky rice mixed with tram den is a speciality of Cao Bang. Photos baocaobang.vn
Viet Nam News

By Thanh Ha

Cao Bang is not only well known for its natural beauty at sites such as Ban Gioc Waterfall, Pac Bo Caves and Thang Hen Lake, but also its tram den, a wild fruit that the Tay and Nung ethnic groups pick in the forest to cook into many tasty dishes like tram kho (braised with pork rinds) and xoi tram, a favourite dish of guests and travellers.

When I was a little girl, each time my grandmother cooked braised tram den with pork rinds, my sisters and brothers would crowd around the tray, mouths watering as they waited for the dish. It was so tasty that each of us could eat four or five bowls.

My grandmother had to prevent my young brothers from eating too much because she was afraid they would suffer from indigestion.

Boiled tram den and its seeds are key to cooking xoi tram.

The fruit is the shape of a thumb and has a dark purple colour. My grandmother would soak them in hot water (between 25 and 30 degrees Celcius) for half an hour until they became soft.

She would ask us to cut each fruit in half, dusting every piece lightly with a mix of salt and better before laying them out to be dried by the wind.

“The dried black tram becomes very tasty to cook steamed tram, to braise it with pork rinds or to make xoi tram (tram cooked with khau pet, a special glutinous rice planted only in Cao Bang),” my grandmother said.

Tram season falls in autumn, but most households in my Cao Bang town keep the dried fruit year round to eat as a snack or cook into xoi tram for big events such as engagements and weddings.

White tram braised with carp is a treat.

To cook a tasty xoi tram, it is important to choose glutinous black tram that is soft and fragrant. Fry the boiled pieces with cooking oil, fish sauce and dried onions before mixing them with cooked glutinous rice. Stir well until the tram sticks with the rice, creating a light purple color with an aromatic flavour.

“The soft and buttery tram mixed with fragrant rice is so attractive and delicious that it would impress even the most fastidious diners,” my grandmother said. She pointed out that although the dish is popular, it is considered a luxury because quality tram den is only planted in Cao Bang Province where the land is most suitable for the fruit.

For us the fruits are valuable because they are a local speciality that is a distillation of the soul of our province’s land and rivers. In the past it only grew in the forests, but now locals know how to grow it in their gardens.

Farmer and herbalist Nong Van Tho said he never dares to climb up tram trees to collect the fruit for fear of damaging the plants. Instead he uses a long stick to get them down.

Farmers in Cao Bang’s Nguyen Binh District sell tram den.

“When a tram tree is flowering, it emits a very aromatic fragrance, attracting many kinds of insects to come to fertilise the plant,” Tho said.

Like black tram, white tram is also used by locals to cook. They put it in fish soup or braise it with pork. But the best preparation is braised with river carp in a wood-fired oven. Tho says this is better than using a gas cooker because it adds a smoky fragrance.

These two sorts of tram are rich in nutrition with high antioxidant levels. They are also richer in calcium, zinc, potassium and other vitamins than other fruits, Tho said, noting that tram den can treat ailments such as chronic pharyngitis, headache, tympanites and colds.

Nowadays, people from lowland areas come to Cao Bang to purchase white tram fruits to make salted dry fruit that sell very well to local young people and overseas Vietnamese, he said.  — VNS


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