The scorched rice (or fried rice) is not a strange dish to the Vietnamese; however, if you have never tried Ninh Binh scorched rice, it is definitely a regretful point in the cuisine dictionary of each tourist.
Ninh Binh Scorched Rice contains a high value of cuisine, which is demonstrated by using the pure rice to compose the quintessence of the dish, without any sophisticated ingredients. To have a good taste of scorched rice, it requires the cook to be careful and wonderful, from the stage of rice selection, cooking to preparing sauce and decoration. It is the meticulousness in every stage that the culinary experts greatly appreciate this specialty. Ninh Binh scorched rice is a specialty recognized by the Asian record organization according to the criteria of “Asian culinary value”; by Vietnam record organization for “Top 50 famous Vietnamese specialties”.
It is not too melodramatic to state that if traveling to Ninh Binh but not eating goat meat, it is definitely that people still keep Ninh Binh unknown. This is a specialty that can be found nowhere and visitors cannot ignore when they arrive this land of Hoa Lu, Ninh Binh. With terrain with many limestone mountains, it creates favorable conditions for the development of vegetation, the main food for mountain goats. The characteristics of mountain goats contribute to the fact that goat meat here is firm, less fat and aromatic. There are many ways to prepare goat dishes, typically such as rare goat meat with lemon, goat meat with pepper sauce, goat stewed with Chinese traditionally medical herbs, etc.
This is the egg of brown ant (also known as “kiến ngạt” and “kiến cong trôn”) whose nest is on the trees of Nho Quan limestone mountains. The fat and protein-rich ant eggs are brought to carefully clean, then scented and cooked with dried onion and chicken fat until they are ripe and aromatic. Later, the ant eggs are wrapped in the banana leaf that has been cooked and then put in sticky rice steamer. When the aroma rises, the wrapped packages of eggs are got out of, opened for seeing the golden ants' eggs and sprinkling them on top of sticky rice, next lightly and evenly stirring with chopsticks, then eat these hot dish for the best taste.
Referring to Channa asiatica or snake-head (mullet), “cá cửng”, the majority of table companions may feel very strange. But in fact, all these names are used to refer to a rare fish of Ninh Binh land, formerly only dedicated to the kings and lords.
Channa asiatica is the species which has rounded body, belongs to the family of snake-head (mullet), living mainly in the rocks. This species has quite special practice. In winter, even though the water is shallow at any level, they try to dig deep caves to live and eat the yellow clay in the cave.
For every 2 months of sudden and brief shower (in the seventh lunar month), it is the season to catch Nhech fish. This fish originates with the same family of eels, but they lived in a slightly salty water (nhệch củ) and lived in brackish water (nhệch khét). The “nhệch củ” is big while “nhệch khét” is long. Nhech fish is similar to Monopterus albus in terms of length, but its width is more likely to Anguilla australis. There is Nhech fish that is meters long, 300 – 400 grams, the big one can weight up to kilogram. The Nhech fish are smooth and fierce, so catching this specie is not easy.
Raw Nhech Fish Salad is often eaten with many other kinds of vegetables such as fig leaves, guava leaves, clove leaves, sesame leaf buds, ming aralia leaves, barringtonia leaves, apricot leaves, star fruit and Premna serratifolia leaves. People roll these leaves in the shape as a funnel, putting the Nhech fish in, getting some sauce named “nước chẻo”, adding few white salt seeds, a few slices of dried onion, and slices of fresh chili and then packing it again.
This species of Ninh Binh Mountain Snail is rare because they only live in rocky cave. When it is the rain, from April to August, they then crawl out of the limestone mountains to look for food and breeding. Mountain snails are found in most places in Ninh Binh province but they concentrate mainly in the limestone mountains of Tam Diep, Yen Mo and Nho Quan, Hoa Lu. It is difficult to detect the mountain snails, so people often have to wake up early in the morning when snails crawl out of the cave to find and catch them. The snail’s meat is tough enough, crunchy, sweet and fragrant with the medicinal herbs. Mountain snails can be processed into many dishes such as snails grilled, fried with tamarind, steamed with ginger, boiled and drained, mixed onion salad, which are all very attractive.
Also made only from vermicelli and eel, but the traditional eel vermicelli in Ninh Binh is delicious and distinguished, different from other region’s ones because the broth is made from eel bones, so when eating, it has the strong taste, the opaque broth is made from eel bone which is well stewed, there are also eel in it. The eel meat is rimmed according to its own recipe, so when it comes to eating, it is sweet without having a fishy smell.
The secret for making a special brand for Ninh Binh eel vermicelli is in the broth. The delicious broth must be cooked from eel bones, after filtering meat, eel bones should not be discarded but put into the pot of broth, kept with the bones for a long time, removing foam continuously to keep the fresh level as well as the natural fat taste of the broth. Thanks to that, when the eel bowl was served, the broth was dark brown, and the quality was very good and tasty.
Cuc Phuong Bantam has long been a animal of specialty in Nho Quan district (Ninh Binh), this species of chicken is raised in Cuc Phuong mountain forest, living in suitable climate and natural conditions, so the meat is fragrant and delicious, preferable by countless people.
This is a valuable specialty in Van Long lagoon, first explored in Ca cave. Van Long Snake-head has a large, round body, living in flooded caves, hence, its shape is characterized. The dish of Van Long Grilled Snake-head is a culinary specialty of the Northern Gia Vien.
Tong Truong Anabas is a type of fish living in flooded cave environment in Hoa Lu, Ninh Binh. It is called Tong Truong Anabas because this fish was discovered in the submerged cave area of Tong Truong Yen, and it is Trang An world heritage complex today. Tong Truong Anabas has certain rigidity, being yellow, aromatic meat. It can be processed into many dishes such as Tong Truong Anabas roasted, fried, cooked with sour soup or cooked with brine.
Fish cooked with brine with “gao” fruits is one of the rustic dishes of people in Ninh Binh, this is also a delicious dish that is hard to resist when coming to the area of ancient capital. Listening to this name, many people mistakenly believe that it is a fish cooked with brine by using dipper (homonymous phenomenon in Vietnamese), but in fact, the fish dish here is fish cooked with “gao” fruits. “Gao” is a kind of floating tree that grows in streams or foothills.
This fruit is sour, slightly sweet and fragrant, so it is often used to cook sour soup instead of tamarind and dracontomelum fruit. Nonetheless, the most delicious dish is fish cooked with brine with “gao” fruits, which has become a special food of Ninh Binh whenever people talk about Hoa Lu ancient capital.
Dong Giao Pineapple is an agricultural product brand of Tam Diep, Ninh Binh. Dong Giao pineapple is recognized and listed in the Top 50 most famous specialty fruits in Vietnam. Dong Giao pineapple together with Tong Truong Anabas, goat meat and Ninh Binh Scorched Rice are considered typical culinary specialties of Ninh Binh.
Yen Mac Fermented Pork Roll is a specialty of Ninh Binh, originated from the creation of Pham Thi Thu, daughter of Prime Minister Pham Than Duat, based on the fermented pork roll of Hue court under Nguyen Dynasty. The best taste of Yen Yen fermented pork roll are found when it is served with all kinds of fig leaves, apricot leaves and ming aralia leaves. All of these ingradients create a special synergy, immersed in the taste of the homeland. Whether eating immediately or storage for a long time, when having the roll, it is still loose, well-tasted with pink color of pork.
Gia Vien Tiny Shrimp Paste is similar to fish sauce in other regions with materials mainly made from fresh tiny shrimps, in small shape, round stem in blue or red and the best is still the ones in Hoang Long river. The product of Gia Vien tiny shrimp paste has a beautiful red color, it is fragrant, sweet and salty with the characteristics of tiny shrimp paste. Gia Vien tiny shrimp sauce has such eye-catching appearance, not too loose, the sweet and salty taste blended well, stimulating the taste that people once tried it will be hard to forget.
Ruou Can Nho Quan (Nho Quan wine drunk out of a jar through pipes) is the kind of wine cooked without using fire. People use milled sticky rice (Brown Rice) to cook, then mixing them with ferment ingredient and placing them into crockery from 3 months or more to drink.
When it is coming to be served, people put water in tor the crock. The first time of adding water, it tastes well and sweet, the more water, the lighter the wine tastes. Drinking this kind of wine, people do not use cups. Instead, they use pipes made from stems of the small bamboo tree, hollowed out inside and plugged into the crockery of wine.
The good taste of the wine is based on the quality of ferment ingredient. This ferment ingredient should be is the shell of mun tree along with alpinia, ginger, green guava leaves in a certain proportion, crushed and squeezed to keep the water and mixed with sticky rice flour. Then it is made into a round cake as the size of a small guava fruit, which is incubated in rice husk to swell, kept dry for about 10 days before using it.
Kim Son wine is the kind of wine distilled from sticky rice, herbal ferment ingredient, a source of natural water from wells. It is produced according to the know-how of the people in the craft villages in Kim Son. This kind of alcohol is usually high in concentration, transparent, saying that the larger the alcoholic foam, the higher the alcohol content. Previously, the wine was contained in the jars made from soil and covered by dried banana leaf. When drinking, it feels very fragrant and soothing. Along with the Kim Son migrants, Kim Son wine has traveled to many parts of Vietnam. Today Kim Son wine has been bottled and sold in the market.
Hoang Long Sweet Potato is a specialty tree of Ninh Binh province in general and Nho Quan - Gia Vien area, which is located nearby Hoang Long river in particular. Hoang Long sweet potato has minced meat. It is light yellow, fleshy, sweet and has a characteristic aroma.
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