Viet Nam News
By Hà Nguyễn
Việt Nam is among the leading countries in the world in terms of dishes cooked from different flowers, such as thiên lý (Telosma cordata), ban (Bauhinia variegata) flowers and many others.
In several nations, flower foods are considered delicacies for special guests, but in Việt Nam many are popular dishes in daily meals and can also be used as elegant food that provide nutritious dishes.
Blossoms: A plate of fresh thiên lý flowers. — Photo dulichvietnam.com
Thiên lý flower dishes
For master chef Phạm Tuấn Hải, the flower is not only an ingredient to cook many kinds of dishes but the thiên lý trellis is the beloved image of Việt Nam’s rural area for hundreds of years.
Vietnamese legend has it said that a rattle snake fell in love with a young married man, attracted by his excellent flute playing, that it conjured into a young woman who looks like the man’s wife as if they are a twinborn.
On being discovered, the snake left the man’s home without a word. But the next morning the couple saw a creeper with a green-yellow flower at the window. The elderly of the village named it Thiên Lý.
In the old days, Hải’s grandmother often asked him to help her pick flowers from the trellis to cook dinner.
“I still remember a full basket of the fresh green yellow flowers picked for my grandmother to cook during a hot summer day. I felt very happy and comfortable about what the dish brings us,” said Hải.
In modern times, the flowers became one of most sought after vegetables by locals during hot summers because apart from being tasty, it helps to cool down body heat and is also a medicine to treat many ailments.
Nguyễn Thị Xuyền, 65, who lives in the northern province of Hà Nam, often fries the flowers with beef, seafood or freshwater crabs.
“I often wake up early in the morning to go to the market to buy the flowers and crabs to ensure that the dish is sweet, tasty and delicious,” said Xuyền.
To cook the dish, she soaks the crabs in clean water for an hour and then uses a pair of chopstick to stir it until the water is pure. It means that the crabs are already cleaned.
She then shells the crabs and puts the crabmeat into a stone mortar to grind it until it becomes thick paste and then filter it and let the crabs’ ground away.
“We have to cook the food over a low flame to ensure that it is not be broken before putting the thiên lý flowers into the pot,” said Xuyền.
In his book, Professor Đỗ Tất Lợi wrote that apart from being a tasty food ingredient, the flowers can treat many ailments such as improving the immune system, helping children with healthy development and the elderly with sleeping problems.
Local specialty: Ban salad is a valuable and nutritious Thai ethnic specialty dish. — Photo dulichvietnam.com
Ban flower dishes
Ban flower is a special flora of Việt Nam’s northwestern region. It has been associated with the life of Thái ethnic group for hundreds of years and is one of their most distinguishable specialties.
Visitor to the region, especially the Điện Biên and Lai Châu provinces, in March will enjoy forests with the flowers blossoming en mass.
Writer Nguyễn Văn Toại, 75, describes the flower as a beautiful young girl who is shy and modest.
Toại has lived some 20 years in the region. He loves the flower for its beauty and its special flavour.
“I still remember when spring comes and ban flowers bloom far and wide across the region. Thai women often pick the flowers to cook special dishes to welcome guests,” he said.
He relates a story, from the 1970s, when he was assigned to work in Điện Biên Province. Right on the first day, the elderly told a folk story about ban flower.
A young beautiful girl named Ban fell in love with a poor handsome man near her village. But her parents didn’t agree to their union, forcing her to marry a rich old man.
Ban protested her parents’ decision by leaving her home to seek her love. But she died of exhaustion on the way to find her man.
At the very spot where she died, a tree with white flowers which bloom in spring grew. Locals took the name of Ban for the flower since then.
Hoàng Thị Toòng, 65, a Thái ethnic woman, who is the owner of Tây Bắc Restaurant in Lai Châu Province, said there are many dishes from ban flowers. They include xôi ban (sticky rice with ban flower), ban salad, fried ban with bamboo shoots and ban soup.
Toòng said most guests at her restaurant like food cooked with ban flowers, but many are often interested in ban salad, which is a mixture of many ingredients such as chilli, peppers, dổi (talauma) and mắc khén (Zanthoxylum rhetsa), wild seeds that the Tháis use to makes spice.
“The salad is rich in aroma and is delicious. I enjoy it so much,” said writer Toại, who often returns to the region once a year. – VNS