Tra Vinh province in Mekong Delta is known as the kingdom of makapuno. Besides, the province has numerous distinctly delicious dishes such as Suon noodle soup, Bo hoc fermented fish, Clam worm sauce, Cylindrical young glutinous rice cake, etc. The foods attract most of the visitors and travelers coming to the land where Khmer, Kinh, and Chinese cultures mix. Here is a list of Top Specialty foods of Tra Vinh which should not be missed on trips to the province.
Bo hoc fermented fish (Mam bo hoc) is one of the specialty foods of Tra Vinh. Made from freshwater fishes such as snakeskin gournami, climbing gournami, snakehead, has played an important part in Cambodian cuisine as well as the cuisine of Khmer people in South Vietnam. Mam bo hoc can be eaten raw. It is used to cook many traditional dishes such as Num bo choc rice noodle soup (Bun num bo choc), Nuoc leo noodle soup (Bun nuoc leo), Rice noodle soup with fermented fish (Bun mam), Fried pork/beef with Bo hoc fermented fish. Grilled ground pork/beef with Bo hoc fermented fish in banana leaves. Mam bo hoc is usually used to make dipping sauce: pounding it with lemongrass, green apple eggplant, chili pepper, lime juice.
It needs many steps to make Bo hoc fermented fish. Prepare fishes, remove their heads, mix the fishes with salt for a few hours, dry these fishes under the sun until dry, marinate them with sugar, black pepper, garlic. Press the marinated fishes with anything heavy to drain off. Wash the fishes again with salt water, put a layer of fishes, a layer of cooled steamed rice, a layer of salt, etc. into a terracotta jar.
Cylindrical glutinous rice cake (Banh tet) is a popular Vietnamese traditional food in South Vietnam. There are various Banh tet recipes in different provinces. Cylindrical young glutinous rice cake (Banh tet com dep) is a specialty of Tra Vinh province, it could not be missed in the list of Top Specialty foods of Tra Vinh. Not similar to the others, Banh tet com dep is not made from glutinous rice but young glutinous rice – a traditional ingredient of Khmer people. The crust made from young glutinous rice is outstandingly sticky and smelling. The second thing that makes Banh tet com dep in Tra Vinh special is that it is steamed until well-done while other kinds of Banh tet is cooked in water. Steaming the cake makes sure it is not too tender and wet. In comparison to other kinds of Banh tet, Banh tet com dep is smaller.
The glutinous rice is harvested two weeks earlier, toasted in a pan over low heat with big bamboo chopsticks until well-done. Toasted glutinous rice is pounded until the husks are separated from the seeds. Use a flat basket to filter, remove the husks, the remaining is called “Com dep” (Young glutinous rice) – a specialty of Khmer people which appeared over 100 years ago. Com dep is mixed with coconut milk, coconut water to make the crust of the Banh tet com dep. The filling of Banh tet com dep is made from peeled mung bean, sugar, and vanilla. Peeled mung bean is cooked until tender, stir-fried with sugar and vanilla, form into cylindrical chunks. Soak banana leaves in coconut milk so that the cake does not stick to the leaves and the cake is greasier. Use banana leaves to wrap the glutinous rice mixture and the filling into a cylinder. Tie the cake with banana rope and steam it for about 1 hour.
Tra Cuon cylindrical glutinous rice cake (Banh tet Tra Cuon) is created by Ms. Thach Thi Ly – a Khmer person living in Hiep Hoa commune, Cau Ngang district, Tra Vinh province over 80 years ago. To eat, it is cut into nice looking circles with sticky and greasy green crust made from glutinous rice and katuk leaf juice; filling made from mung bean, pork belly, salted duck egg yolk. People in Tra Vinh use a thin banana rope which is used to tie the cake to cut it. According to them, cutting with a knife makes the cake circles rougher.
Nam Thuy flower pork roll (Cha hoa Nam Thuy) is named after Mrs. Nam Thuy who created it in 1999. When cut into circles, they look like beautiful flowers. So that it is called flower pork roll. Made from egg, the outer layer is yellow. The next layer is pink, chewy and well-kneaded like Vietnamese pork roll. The inner consists of orange salted duck egg yolk, carrot, crunchy black wood ear, sweet-tasty pork, chewy pork skin, etc. Nam Thuy flower pork roll is wrapped in banana leaves which enhances its flavors and smell.
Cutting the roll and eating with steamed rice or rice noodles, fish sauce and herbs is the simplest way to making a meal for your family. Nam Thuy flower pork roll is a good choice for the feast in Vietnam. It is usually served as a starter. At Tet festival, they eat Nam Thuy flower pork roll with fish sauce and pickled scallion heads. Coming to Tra Vinh, do not forget to taste and buy some Nam Thuy flower pork roll – one of the specialty foods of Tra Vinh to bring home as a great gift.
5. Am porridge
Am porridge (Chao am) impresses people with its strange name. “Chao” means porridge, “am” means “obsess/obsession” in Vietnamese. It has been said that hard to please mother in law in Tra Vinh usually asked her future daughter in law to cook a porridge with snakehead to test her before the wedding. Porridge with snakehead had obsessed many young brides in Tra Vinh.
Am porridge has been sold in Chau Thanh market in Tra Vinh over 30 years ago. It is not easy to cook Am porridge with great taste and nice smell. The first step is choosing snakehead, the fish must be fresh and big. Prepare the snakehead, cut the fish into chunks, boil them, remove all of the bones, stir-fry snakehead flesh with garlic and green onion. The broth cooked with the fish is used to cook porridge. Add rice, grilled shallots, dried shrimps, grilled dried squid to enhance its flavors. They add beaten snakehead eggs to the porridge to make it yellow.
To eat, dinner mixes Am porridge with veggies (pigweed, shredded banana blossom, onion, coriander, poached bean sprouts), sesame girdle cake Am porridge; top with crushed peanuts and ground black pepper. Then eat the dish with the dipping sauce made from fermented shrimp paste, lime, sugar, red small hot chili pepper.
Similar to many Vietnamese rice noodle soups, Bun suong consists of the broth, rice noodles, toppings, vegetables and dipping sauce. They boil dry rice noodles until tender, a little chewy to serve Bun suong. The dish impresses dinner with its lean, dark brown, rich, a little sour and sweet-tasty broth which is cooked from pork bone, tamarind, fermented soybeans. The dish is topped with pork belly and shrimp cake (Cha tom). To make Cha tom, choose big and fresh shrimps, washed, peeled, ground with garlic, shallots. Add ground black pepper, salt, tapioca starch, and annatto oil to the ground shrimp mixture, knead the mixture for many times, put the mixture into a plastic bag, cuts a small hole in the bag and press the bag to form the mixture into long noodles which are dropped into boiling broth and cooked until well-done, tender and chewy texture, orange color and very smelling. Fresh veggies (poached bean sprouts, salad, and shredded cabbage, etc.), minced fresh chili pepper, crushed toasted peanuts, stir-fried shrimp paste with garlic and sticky rice could not be missed.
Duyen Hai – a rural district of Tra Vinh province is famous for the unique Clam worm sauce (Nuoc mam ruoi). The harvesting season of clam worm is in October and September in the lunar calendar. Clam worm is mixed with salt and put into a terracotta jar. Cover the jar with a cloth, dry the jar under the sun for 10-15 days. The longer the jar is dried, the more delicious the Nuoc mam ruoi. Cook the liquid from the jar, cool it down, filter the liquid to receive a clear liquid. Clam worm sauce has a distinctive taste, natural color like honey. It can be used as a dipping sauce or a spice to cook Braised fishes. Clam worm sauce is unique and you can not buy the similar sauce in Vietnam so that I would like to recommend you to buy some if you like to eat this specialty.
Elephant apple is the pride of Tra Vinh people. The fruit grows to a size of 5-12 cm diameter which is actually an aggregate of carpels. These carpels contain five seeds each embedded in the fleshy, gelatinous, mildly sweet, but acidic and a little tart pulp. The simplest way to eat elephant apple is getting its flesh of the young fruit and dip in chili salt or a sauce made from fish sauce and sugar. Ripe elephant apple has sweet, sour, greasy flesh and crunchy seeds. Local people usually mix the flesh and seeds with ice and sugar, then eat. They also ground elephant apple with sugar, milk and crushed ice to make an outstanding smoothie (Sinh to). They can use elephant apple to make cakes or make dipping tamarind fish sauce or make elephant apple wine – a specialty of Tra Vinh.
Makapuno fruit (Dua sap) is a strange kind of coconut which has the skin and shape similar to the others but typically smelling, greasy, spongy, sticky, thick flesh and gelatinous, nontransparent water due to genetic mutation, ground, weather, etc. In Vietnam, Cau Ke district of Tra Vinh province is the unique place where Makapuno trees produce Dua sap. The Dua sap has become the pride of Tra Vinh people.
Makapuno flesh can be eaten raw. It tastes sweet, greasy, tender but chewy distinctively. You can mix the flesh with milk, crushed ice and top with crushed toasted peanuts and eat. You can add various fruits to the mixture at your wish. Makapuno smoothie from Makapuno flesh, crushed ice, sugar and milk is an outstanding Makapuno recipe.
Freshwater of wells and warm weather of Cau Ke – a rural district in Tra Vinh province proves ideal growing environments for daikon production. Mr. Vuong The Hoa – a Chaozhou person came to Cau Ke in 1947 created the Chit Sa salt-preserved daikon recipe over 50 years ago. Dry daikon on rice straw, mix with salt and store in a terracotta jar. The salt-preserved daikon will be ready after one week. The Chit sa salt-preserved daikon is not too tender but crunchy. Its skin should be smooth and not be covered with salt. It is not too salty and preserved for one year.
Chit Sa salt-preserved daikon can be eaten raw with steamed rice or plain rice porridge. Fried duck egg with Chit Sa salt-preserved daikon is a great dish to eat with steamed rice. Soup with salt-preserved daikon made from pork bone, pork tail, black beans and salt-preserved daikon is usually served at parties in Tra Vinh province as well as many provinces in Mekong Delta. They also mix Chit Sa salt-preserved daikon with vinegar and sugar, then eat with sliced boiled pork head.
11. Loi choi
Loi choi is a worm which is white, plumpy and about 20-40 cm long. Most of the Loi choi worms are smaller than a little finger. It usually lives in sandbanks or muddy banks. The most famous Loi choi worm recipe is Stir-fried Loi choi with lemongrass and chili pepper. Wash to remove dirt from Loi choi, marinate the worms with salt, dry them under the sun or grill on the fire, fry Loi choi over high heat with minced lemongrass and chili pepper. Cooked over high heat, the Loi choi worms covered with its fat look mouth-watering. The dish is served with steamed rice and veggies. Lemongrass and chili pepper go well with the greasy, milky, tender, a little chewy Loi choi. The dish pairs well with rice wine and beer.
Da Loc pyramidal glutinous rice cake (Banh u Da Loc) is a specialty food of Tra Vinh province. Originated in Huong Phu hamlet, Da Loc commune-level town, Chau Thanh district, Tra Vinh province, this traditional cake has been more and more popular.
The crust of Banh u Da Loc is made from glutinous rice and katuk leaves which makes the crust green and enhances its flavor. The filling of the cake is made from salted duck egg yolk, pork belly, and mung bean paste. The cake is a perfect blend of sticky crust; salty, buttery salted duck egg yolk; fatty, greasy, sweet-tasty pork belly; buttery and well-kneaded mung bean paste. Da Loc people wrap pyramidal glutinous rice cake in banana leaves and tie it with banana rope.
13. Vinh Kim dried shrimp
Vinh Kim commune in Cau Ngang district, Tra Vinh province is famous for Dried shrimp. Vinh Kim dried shrimp is pink-red, very dry, sweet-tasty and smelling typically. This food is made from wild shrimp and no coloring so that it is very delicious and healthy. It needs many steps to make dried shrimp in Vinh Kim: washing, sorting, boiling, marinating with salt, drying under the sun, and peeling. In the commune, wild shrimps in the nature are less and less, there are only a few families produce dried shrimp so that the price is high and customers must order if they would like to buy Vinh Kim dried shrimp.
14. Ben Co soup cake
Ben Co restaurant in Ben Co hamlet, Nguyet Hoa commune, Chau Thanh district, Tra Vinh province is always crowded with customers for flavorful soup cake. In the 1980s, a woman who has 6 children started a business with a shoulder pole which served soup cake to make money. The soup cake shoulder pole has become a spacious restaurant to serve a large number of customers.
A portion of Ben Co soup cake consists of thick, a little chewy hand-made rice noodles, the rich broth covering the noodles, toppings including pork guts, pork stomach, pork heart, a chunk of pork leg, coriander and ground black pepper. Lime wedges and chili pepper slices are served with the bowl of soup cake so that dinner can add sourness and hotness to the dish at his wish.
15. Chu u crab
Chu u crab is as small as field crab and three-stripped crab (Ba khia) in Mekong Delta. However, it has rougher skin and moves more slowly. Chu u crab lives in coastal forests, the coastal district in Tra Vinh province. Chu u has 2 strong red fleshy pincers. In Vietnamese, “chu u” means sad. The crab looks sad so that Vietnamese people call it Chu u crab. It does not impress people with its name but the great taste, rich nutrition of the flesh, and the crispy shell. Especially, shedder chu u crab has tender shell, greasy and smelling flesh. Some delicious dishes from Chu u crab are Steamed Chu u crab with beer, Boiled Chu u crab with coconut water, Grilled Chu u crab, Roasted Chu u crab with tamarind is a famous dish from this specialty food. Fermented Chu u crab (Mam chu u).
Clam worm sauce, Chit Sa salt-preserved daikon, Dried Shrimp are great gift from Tra Vinh for your family and friends because they are distinctly tasty and last 1 year. Elephant apple in Tra Vinh, Da Loc pyramidal glutinous rice cake, Cau Ke Makapuno, Cylindrical glutinous rice cakes, and the flower pork roll last one week so that you can buy them as gifts from Tra Vinh. A trip to Tra Vinh could not be complete if you miss tasting great Specialty foods of Tra Vinh and buy some of them to bring home.