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|Warming: Steamed rice rolls with chicken eggs.-Photos baotintuc.vn|
People in northern Cao Bang have kept culinary traditions alive for many years. Among special dishes made by local Tay and Nung ethnic groups, such as roast duck, sour pho, five-colour sticky rice and others, hot steamed rice rolls have become a popular daily breakfast for both locals and guests. The food is not only tasty but also affordable for diners.
Last year, I visited the province and stayed at my younger sister’s home. Early the next morning she invited me to enjoy the food at a shop near her house. The shop owner, Le Thu Nga, is a maternal grandchild of Hoang Thi Nguyen, whose food I had the chance to enjoy some 30 years ago.
The flavour of Nga’s dish reminded me of her grandmother’s.
Nga said she only used two kinds of rice, locally known as khau pay and khau pét, which have been grown by generations of farmers on the land along the province’s Mang, Bang, Bac Vong and Quy Sơn rivers. The roll is not only white and crispy but also has a special fragrance as new green rice flakes. “The secret is it needs hand grinding with a stone mortar to ensure the wet powder doesn’t curdle.” She said.
“But the most important part is the broth. I have to simmer a pig’s tibia for over 10 hours for a pot of quality broth which is pure, sweet and without an oily film,” said Nga, noting that as her grandmother did, she uses a special knife made by the Nung ethnic group from the hundred-year-old Phuc Sen handicraft village in Quang Uyen District. She then chops the lean pork shoulder, fragrant mountain mushrooms and wood-ear fungus on the chopping board made from a special type of wood. These utensils help to create the special flavours of her dish.
Popular dish: Steamed rice rolls eaten with pork pie dipped into very hot broth are very tasty. Nga’s dish is not only a specialty but also carries the soul of locals.
Different from Thanh Tri steamed rice rolls in Hanoi that are dipped into sour sauce, the Cao Bang version is dipped into a bowl of hot broth.
Accompanying the dish is a pork pie wrapped in banana leaves. But I told Nga to make me a roll with a chicken egg in the middle as her grandmother did for me years ago.
“Many people nowadays like to put a chicken egg in the hot steamed rolls,” Nga said.
To fully enjoy the dish, one needs patience, as it takes time to steam the rolls and serve them one after another.
After me, there were dozens of people patiently waiting for their turn. They take a seat by the fire and watch as the chef skilfully rolls each piece.
Nga said that many old customers including those from abroad still visit her shop. “I was very moved when recently an elderly man from France came and said that there are no places in the world with such special hot steamed rolls, and that he missed the dish made by my grandmother.
“During his week-long stay in the province, he ate nothing but the same dish. He enjoyed breakfast with hot bánh cuon trung (steamed rolls with chicken eggs), lunch and dinner with banana-wrapped pie and rau mùi (coriander).”
Nga quoted the man as saying “I still enjoy the dish so much. This will be the last time I eat the rolls made by Nguyen’s descendants because I’m too old (86) to come back to Cao Bang again.”
Nga said her dish sold particularly well in winter because it helps to drive away the cold.
Local herbalist Nong Ngoc Nam said the dish is very good for health, particularly pregnant women. “It is good for those suffering from a cold and patients with low appetites.”