Sapa is located about 30 km from the center of Lao Cai province and 1500-1800 m above the sea level. Hidden in white clouds, the charming and fanciful Sapa is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Vietnam thanks. Coming to Sapa, you will admire beautiful sights such as gorgeous waterfalls including the famous Silver waterfall, great mountains including Fansipan, Ham Rong mountain, terraced rice fields, Rock church. It is a big chance to learn more about unique traditions, local lifestyle, and the rich culture of ethnic people (H’Mong, M’Nong, Tay, Red Dao, Giay, Xa Pho). In addition, you could not miss a wide range of specialty foods which attract most of the travelers coming to Sapa. Here are Top specialty foods of Sapa, Lao Cai:
Top specialty foods of Sapa – Savory dishes
1. Stolen armpit pig (Lợn cắp nách)
Stolen armpit pig (or Pork theft armpit, Lợn cắp nách, Lợn bản) is a very famous specialty food of Sapa, Lao Cai. Not similar to pigs in other regions, this kind of pig is about 10-15 kg so that it can be carried under armpits and easily stolen by theft. That is the reason why they call it Stolen armpit pig. What makes the pig special? Stolen armpit pigs are grazed in forests, eat wild vegetables so that its taste is unique. It has is firm, tender, sweet-tasty meat, tender, a little crunchy skin, and a thin layer of fat. There are many cooking methods for Stolen armpit pig: steaming, grilling, stir-frying, roasting. Dishes from Stolen armpit pig go well with a special dip made from green chili pepper, bishopwood leaf (lá nhội), cape yellowwood seed (hạt mắc khén), Michelia tonkinensis seed (hạt dổi).
2. Ginger pork (Thịt gừng)
Thịt gừng literally means Ginger pork in English. This is a traditional food of Nung Dinh (Nùng Dính) people, it is made from pork rib bone, pork backbone, and pork head. The ingredients are minced, mixed with salt, corn wine, and ginger juice. The mixture is put into a jar, covered with water, and covered tightly. The mixture is called Ginger pork which can be braised, or steamed, cooked in water with spices.
3. Stewed horse meat and horse organs (Thắng cố)
Stewed horse meat and horse organs is a traditional food of H’Mong people which are usually sold at fairs in Sapa. This kind of food is usually cooked in a big pan. To make this food, marinate meat, organs of horse with star anise, cinnamon, amomum-tsaoko, and other spices, then cook them until tender on charcoal. It has been said that Stewed horse meat and horse organs is better to eat with Sapa mustard greens (Cải mèo) and a dip made from Muong Khuong chili sauce. The food should not be missed if you would like to learn more about real local life, the rich cuisine, the unique culture of Sapa although it is not good looking.
4. Grilled foods (Đồ nướng)
It is cool at night in Sapa and nothing is better than sitting around charcoal oven, grilling some foods, sipping some wine, talk to each other or simply enjoying the fresh air. Eating grilled foods at night has become an important part in local life and one ofthe unmissable things to do on a trip to Sapa. Stolen armpit pig, Beef and Sapa mustard green roll, Salmon cake, Sticky rice in bamboo tube, Grilled egg, etc. are delicious and worth-trying foods.
5. Buffalo meat upstairs kitchen (Thịt trâu gác bếp)
Black Thai people have made this food in order to bring buffalo meat to the forest in a few days and reserve buffalo meat for rainy days and flooding days. To make this food, they season buffalo meat, then squeeze upstairs kitchen. It has a special taste and smell thanks to spices including cape yellowwood seed, salt, pepper, garlic, and ginger. Buffalo meat upstairs kitchen is black and hard outside, pink and tender inside. This special buffalo meat is used to prepare many great dishes such as cooked, fried, soups, stew, etc. The most popular way to eat the buffalo meat is shredding the meat, dipping in spicy lemon pepper salt while sipping Sapa aromatic wine from Táo mèo (Docynia indica).
6. Khang Gai Dried Meat (Thịt sấy Khăng Gai)
H’Mong people usually cut meat of horse, pig, cow, buffalo, and hang them upstairs the kitchen in order to preserve them for up to 3 years. The meat is called Khang Gai Dried Meat which is sweet-tasty, crispy, and fleshy. It is cleaned and can be cooked with vegetables such as tomato, bamboo shoot, etc when eating. Dishes from Khang Gai Dried Meat pairs well with wine.
7. Salted pork (Thịt lợn muối chua)
To make Salted pork, they season pork with wine, salt, a mixture of pounded cinnamon leaves, Piper betle leaves, jackfruit leaves, chili pepper, galangal. Store the seasoned pork in jars, the Salted pork will be ready in 2-3 weeks. The meat tastes salty, sour, crispy and firm. Toasted and grilled Salted pork are very delicate so that you could not forget their tastes.
8. Pho noodles with beef and dried arrowroot noodles (Cuốn sủi)
Pho noodles with beef and arrowroot is an unmissable food in Sapa, Lao Cai. In Vietnam, Pho beef noodle soup is one of the most famous foods for not only the uniquely flavorful broth but also the Pho noodles which are white, tender but a little chewy. In Sapa, they have created Cuốn sủi – a great food from Pho noodles. Top Pho noodles with beef, dried arrowroot noodles, a special sauce, ground black pepper, peanuts, herbs, chili pepper slices. To eat, mix the noodles with toppings, add chili sauce and other spices at your wish and eat with vegetables and herbs.
9. Black chicken (Gà đen)
Black chicken or silky chicken, Silkie is one of the most favorite specialty foods of Sapa thanks to its black and crunchy skin, tender, firm, and crunchy meat, and typical smell. It can be used to cooked a wide range of amazing dishes like fry, stir-fry, steam, boil, etc. The best dish from black chicken in Sapa is Grilled black chicken with honey. The great taste of the chicken and distinctively sweet, fragrant honey from the forests pair well. The grill is really tasty to eat with peppermint and salt, lime, black pepper dip.
10. Chicken blood pudding (Tiết canh gà “trắng cay”)
Although blood puddings which are made from pig, duck, chicken are listed as one of the most foods fear factors in Vietnam, you can find it delicious when you eat it. Chicken blood pudding is a should-try food in Sapa. They can mix the blood with minced chicken organs or minced grilled chicken meat and bones, shiso, lime leaves, and other herbs in Sapa. When eating, add lime juice to the pudding, top it with crushed peanuts. To Vietnamese people, Chicken blood pudding tastes sweet and sour, smells pleasant, a little stinking but attractive.
11. Salmon and sturgeon (Cá hồi/cá tầm)
You may be surprised to hear that they farm salmon and sturgeon in Sapa with majestic mountainous areas and green forests. The subtropical and milder climate is suitable to farm salmon and sturgeon which have firm, tender, sweet-tasty, and greasy. Although there are hundreds of salmon and sturgeon recipes in the world, you should not miss Hot pot with salmon, Salmon salad, Grilled salmon, Hot pot with sturgeon in Sapa.
12. Stream fishes (Cá suối)
In Sapa, there are many stream fishes which have been famous around the country with its great taste. Stream fishes are small and have many bones so that the best ways to cook them are grilling or frying until crispy. They usually eat the grilled or fried fish with spicy sweet sour dipping fish sauce, steamed rice, boiled Ngồng cải (Chinese broccoli).
13. Cooked frog with wild vegetables (Nhái nấu rau “ua gai ờ ráu áu”)
Sapa people usually catch frogs in streams, wash, mix them with salt, wash again. Then cook the frogs thoroughly with wild vegetables, salt, chili pepper and other spices. The food is comfortable, healthy and refreshing.
14. Bamboo sprout roll (Nem măng đắng)
Bamboo sprout roll is a specialty food of Tay people in Sapa. The soul of this food – bamboo sprouts are harvested in forests, they are abundant and the most delicious in rainy season. To make the roll, they boil bamboo sprouts in order to make them clean and less bitter. Then get tender outer layer to wrap the filling, which is made from minced chicken, minced scallion heads, black pepper, fish sauce, into rolls. After that, fry the rolls until crispy and yellow. Bamboo sprout roll is usually served with Muong Khuong chili sauce or a traditional sauce of Thai people which is made from fish sauce, chili pepper, black pepper, cape yellowwood seed, lime juice, and some spices of Tay people. The perfect mix of lightly bitter, crispy bamboo shoot wrapper, crunchy filling and the sauce can satisfy most of the diners, even with strict gourmets.
15. Steamed duck and young sticky rice in Dong leaf (Mọc cốm)
Young sticky rice (Cốm) is the essence of Vietnamese cuisine, it is made by drying sticky rice which is harvested about 7 days earlier, pounding them until the husks and grains are separated and the grains turn flat, removing the husks, the remaining grains are called “Cốm” or young sticky rice. Tay people in Sapa created a delightful recipe from Young sticky rice – Mọc cốm. Cut duck (meat and skin) into long slices, mince the other parts (neck, bones, wings, etc.), stir fry them to make the filling for this food. Put young sticky rice into Dong (Phrynium placentarium) leaf, then put the filling in the middle of the young sticky rice, tie the leaf, steam it until Young sticky rice tender and sticky but not mushy and too wet. Steamed duck and young sticky rice in Dong leaf is worth trying on your trip to Sapa thanks to its distinct taste and smell.
16. Sticky rice in bamboo tube (Cơm lam)
Sticky rice in bamboo tube is a must-try food in Sapa. People of ethnic groups in the highlands of Vietnam bring sticky rice with them when going to the forests to work. Cut bamboo tube, put some rice into the tube, add water to the tube, and cook rice and water in the tube in order to make stick and smelling steamed sticky rice. Cut and remove the burnt and hard outer layer, retain a thin layer of the tube, cut the tube into 5-7 parts. When eating, peel the thin layer. The food goes well with toasted sesame salt, grilled wild boar, grilled chicken. Unique cooking method, great taste and smell which come from the perfect mix of sticky rice grown in highlands and bamboo make Cơm lam a specialty food of Sapa. It is an unmissable food on any trip to Sapa.
Top specialty foods of Sapa – Cakes
17. Pau plau round sticky rice cake (Bánh dầy “Páu plậu”)
To make Pau plau round sticky rice cake, soak sticky rice in water for a few hours, steam it until well-done, then pound until the steamed sticky rice turns into a smooth and sticky mixture. Form the mixture into circles which are called Pau plau round sticky rice cake. Pounding the cake is a hard work so that the cook should be strong and patient. The cake can be stored for 1 week at room temperature. Sapa people usually eat Pau plau round sticky rice cake with sugar or fry it until crispy and eat.
18. Pau co tapioca and sticky rice round cake (Bánh đao “Páu cò”)
Pau co tapioca and sticky rice round cake is sticky, tender, and comfort. They grind sticky rice with water, then drain the sticky rice flour, mix it with tapioca starch in order to make a dough. Form the dough into circles which is as wide as rice bowl, wrap them in banana leaves and steam until well-done. Pau co tapioca and sticky rice round cake can be stored for 10 days at room temperature.
19. Pau po cu corn cake (Bánh ngô “Páu pó cừ”)
To make this food, they mince, then grind young corn, put it into banana leaf, then put into a wooden box/container and steam until well-done. Wrap portions of steamed corn in banana leaves. Pau po cu corn cakes are ready, Sapa people eat this sweet, sticky, and fragrant food with finger. They eat Pau po cu corn cake as a snack or bring eat to the fields and eat at work. The cake can be stored up to one week if it is tied in banana leaves and soaked in water. When eating, they warm the cakes by steaming and eat.
20. Seven colored steamed sticky rice (Xôi bảy màu)
Seven colored steamed sticky rice is a traditional food of Nung Dinh people. A portion of Seven colored steamed sticky rice consists of seven kinds of steamed sticky rice which have different color and taste which come from the food coloring colors. Seven colors are blue, pink, light red, dark red, yellow-green, yellow, green. Big, round, long and smelling sticky rice is the main ingredient for this food. They use many kinds of leaves in forests to make natural food colorings. This food is served with toasted black sesame salt or grilled chicken. Steam and smell which come off the steamed sticky rice attract most of the people. The food is a must food at Tet festival in Sapa and cooked in order to memorize Nung Dinh heroes who fought the enemies on every 1st July in the lunar calendar.
Top specialty foods of Sapa – Vegetables and herbs
21. Bambusa nutans shoot (Măng vầu)
The harvest season of Bambusa nutans shoot is the rainy season. This kind of bamboo shoot is a specialty of Sapa as well as entire Northwest Highland of Vietnam. Bambusa nutans shoot is smaller then other kinds of bamboo shoots in other regions of Vietnam. To eat, remove hard outer leaves, the white inner part tastes crunchy, a little bitter, and a little sweet. Local people make many great dishes from Bambusa nutans shoot: stir-fry, cooked, pickle. They soak Bambusa nutans shoot in vinegar, then eat with Buffalo upstairs kitchen.
22. Bac Ha split gill fungus (Nấm chân chim Bắc Hà)
Split gill fungus (Schizophyllum Commune) is very rich in nutrition and tasty uniquely. It can be used to cook soup or stir-fry. Once eating this fungus, you can not forget its great taste. This kind of fungus can be bought at fairs in Sapa.
23. Forest shitake mushroom (Nấm hương rừng)
After each rain in the summer, people in Sapa go to forests in order to harvest forest shitake mushroom which has been a specialty of Sapa for many years. The sweet-tasty, lightly fragrant, tender mushroom is a great ingredient for dishes from black chicken, salmon, sturgeon, stolen theft armpits. People in Sapa usually string the mushrooms with bamboo strings and bring them to markets or fairs and sell them. They also dry forest shitake mushroom for storing and selling.
24. Rock mustard green (Cải mầm đá)
Cải mầm đá which grows only on the top of high rock mountains in cold weather from November to March is unique in Sapa. The vegetable name literally means Rock mustard green in English. The vegetable is tasty, healthy and rare so that it should not be missed on your trip to Sapa. It has a strange looking. It is as aromatic as sticky rice. Its taste is rather similar to other kinds of mustard greens but it is more tender and sweet-tasty than the others. They use it as a medicine or food. They can simply boil Rock mustard green, then eat with sesame salt or egg fish sauce. Or they can stir-fry the vegetable with garlic, meat.
25. Chayote (Su su)
Sapa is full of stunning chayote gardens. Sapa people can harvest tons of fruit from a large truss of chayote every year. I would like to recommend tender but crunchy, healthy and tasty Stir-fried chayote vegetable in Sapa.
26. Cat mustard green (Rau cải mèo)
Rau cải mèo literally means Cat mustard green in English. Local people sow the seeds in the fields, on the hills and let the vegetables grow up themselves. Coming to Ta Van, Cat Cat villages in Sapa, you can see abundant Rau cải mèo. Friendly M’Nong people can serve you steamed rice and Stir-fried Rau cải mèo with fat and ginger.
27. Sour vegetable (Rau chua)
Rau chua literally means Cat Sour vegetable in English. This kind of vegetable is sour, refreshing, it leaves a sweet taste in your mouth after eating. It is usually eaten with boiled pork belly, roasted pork, pork intestine to make these foods less greasy.
28. Goji leaf (Rau củ khởi)
Goji leaf has lightly sweet, a little bitter taste and typical smell so that it has become one of specialty foods of Sapa which are popular in many restaurants in Sapa. They usually cook Goji leaf and pork bone soup or Goji leaf and minced pork soup which taste a little bitter but leaves a sweet taste in your mouth after eating.
29. Herbs (Rau thơm)
Some herbs such as sweet basil, heartleaf, shiso, Vietnamese mint, coriander, marjoram, peppermint are popular in many regions of Vietnam. Coming to Sapa, you will have a chance to try these herbs which grow on highland. Their tastes and smells are typical. Herbs play an important part in Sapa cuisine, herbs are served with lots of dishes in Sapa to enhances their flavors, aromas, and textures.
Top specialty foods of Sapa – Fruits
30. Bac Ha plump (Prunus salicina, Mận hậu Bắc Hà)
Bac Ha plump is smaller and less sweet than other kinds of plumps. It has shining, smooth, thin, red to pink-purple skin, small seed, juicy, tender, crunchy, sweet, a little sour flesh. It has been said to be more crunchy and sweeter than other kinds of plumps in Vietnam. Coming to Sapa in the harvest season of Bac Ha plump from May to July, you will have a big chance to see lush plump orchards with thousands of fruits. If you come to the region from January to April, you can admire the beauty of plump orchards which are full of white plump flowers.
31. Peach (Đào rọ)
Peach is considered as Sapa girls who are simple but graceful. It is hard but sticky, juicy but dry, sticky but crunchy. Eating a bite of peach grows in Sapa, you can feel like you can taste the whole Sapa and tough the soul of this region.
32. Pyrus granulosa fruit (Quả mắc cọp)
Quả mắc cọp is a kind of pear which has brown-yellow, rough skin and juicy, refreshing, sweet flesh. It has become one of the most favorite fruits in North Vietnam.
Top specialties of Sapa – Drinks
33. Docynia Indica wine (Rượu táo mèo)
Docynia Indica wine (Rượu táo mèo) is a very famous wine in Vietnam for charming taste and smell as well as its benefits. Plumpy Docynia Indica fruits are chosen, put into a jar with sugar in layer and store for 2 weeks. After that, soak the fruits in high-quality wine which is made by local, Docynia Indica wine will be ready after 2 weeks. The longer the fruits are soaked in the wine, the greater the Docynia Indica wine is.
34. Shan Lung wine (Rượu Shan Lùng)
Shan Lung wine was created by red Dao people in Shan Lung village, Ban Meo commune, Bat Xat district, Lao Cai province. Water, the height of 900m, the climate, and secret recipe make the wine special. To make this wine, cook a mixture of rice grains with sorghum grains like cooking steamed rice until the rice husks crack open. Ferment the cooked mixture with a special yeast in 1-2 days, soak the mixture in stream water for some days, then distill Shan Lung wine. The wine is distinctly fragrant, sweet, and tangy.
35. Bac Ha corn wine (Rượu Ngô Bắc Hà)
Bac Ha corn wine is a specialty of H’Mong and Dao people in Ban Pho, Bac Ha highland, Lao Cai province. This corn wine is as transparent as stream water. It is sweet and smelling and but not sour and tangy. It can make you drunk but relaxing. The corn for this wine is grown in high mountains, especially in Lung Phinh commune. The corn seeds are firm, tender, buttery, and rich in nutrition. A special yeast from “hong mi” seeds (hạt hồng mi) makes the wine unique. Boil corn, cool it down, ferment it with the yeast for 5-7 days, distill the wine from it.
36. Muong Khuong chili sauce (Tương ớt Mường Khương)
Muong Khuong chili sauce was created by ethnic people in Muong Khuong district, Lao Cai province and has become a specialty of the entire province. The soul of this sauce is bright red, small, spicy chili pepper grown in the region. Muong Khuong is covered with a red coat on the harvest season of chili pepper. There are more than 10 ingredients for Muong Khuong chili sauce. It is the best choice to eat with grilled foods, boiled dishes, Pho noodle soups, Buffalo upstairs kitchen, etc.