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Shaken and stirred in Hồ Chí Minh City

Update: June, 05/2016 - 09:00
New craze: Customers waiting for ’shaking mangoes’ outside a stall on Nguyễn Huệ Street in District 1.
Viet Nam News

By An Phương

HCM CITY – James Bond famously likes his vodka martini cocktail “shaken, not stirred”.

One theory has had it that this choice was driven on an alcohol-induced tremor in his hands that made it difficult for him to stir his drinks!

In a solid twist to Bond’s preference, a “mocktail” is shaking and stirring Hồ Chí Minh City streets now, following on the heels of several culinary hits like cheese sticks, Hà Nội style lemon tea, and salted egg sponge cakes.

Called Trái Cây Lắc or, “shaking fruit”, the new dish seems to be breaking new ground in the constantly evolving Vietnamese street food culture. It involves taking fruit slices (mangoes and hog plums being the most popular) and shaking them in a container after adding a pungent seasoning.

The dish has become so popular these days that just about every main street in the city offers multiple options.

Lê Thùy Anh, 23, waiting in line for an order of shaking mangoes outside a stall in District 1, said that the dish has moved beyond its simple origins of shrimp-salted mangoes to embrace diverse seasonings, offering many more mouthwatering options.

“Just imagine,” she gushed, “a vibrant blend of tart, crunchy, pungent green mango with a sweet and spicy sauce… you don’t want to miss it.”

Shaking fruit vendors prepare several packs of fresh, chilled chopped fruits. Upon receiving an order, they put each pack into a “shaker”, usually a plastic container, add a mixture of sugar, shrimp salt, fish sauce and chillies, and then shake them vigorously, very much in the manner of seasoned bartenders.

A cup of shaking mango, with all ingredients well mixed, costs VNĐ10,000 – 25,000 (US$0.4 – 1), depending on where you buy it.

Trần Mỹ Hạnh, 19, is completely sold on the new creation. “I love Shaking Mango since they are not just refreshing to eat during this hot season; the balancing flavours, sweet, sour and spicy, excites my appetite very much," she said.

“My friends and I have tried many street snacks but Shaking Fruit is by far our favourite! We usually get them right outside our school and enjoy them during every break.”

The word on the street is that the latest culinary street sensation was initiated by Tạ Ngọc Sơn Hải, a street food vendor, on Đặng Văn Ngữ Street in Phú Nhuận District.

Accidental inspiration

“The idea struck me after I got some random ingredients from my sister one day. I decided to shake them with slices of mango that I couldn’t sell that day.

“I was very surprised by how tasty it was. I felt blessed to have made this discovery,” Hải said.

When he began offering Shaking Mango at his stall, it drew a large, curious crowd during the first few days. Many were skeptical initially about how the dish was being made, but they were all won over by its taste, he said.

Movers and shakers: A shaking fruit vendor prepares to serve an eager customer on Ngô Đức Kế Street in District 1, HCM City. VNS Photos An Phương

Nguyễn Hoàng, 18, one of Hải’s regular customers, explained the allure with a rhetorical question: “Isn’t it exciting to order something that you aren’t familiar with, especially when it is done in the most unexpected way?”

The answer to that could lie in the fact that Hải has since set up several shaking fruit stalls on Sư Vạn Hạnh Street in District 10.

Or it could lie in the fact that many restaurants and street vendors have jumped on to the shaking fruit wagon with their own creations. Now, in addition to mangoes and hog plums, one gets to sample Shaking Potato, Shaking Sweet Potato and even Shaking Rice Cakes. Of course, the diversity is not confined to the fruit or vegetable; the seasonings have multiplied, too. 

Shaking Rice Cakes, for example, are deep-fried then shaken with cheese powder. Coated with the slighty-salted cheese, the gooey rice cakes become delicious. Sugars can be sprinkled on this dish to soften the flavour for those who aren’t into the cheesy taste. The formula works, vendors say.

Shaking Sweet Potato is also deep-fried before being shaken with plum powder for a sweet and sour taste that are a treat, especially during rainy days, said Mai Đặng, a fan of the dish.

Ngọc Thơ, 43, an experienced street food vendor in District 3, is a recent convert.

“You have a better chance of succeeding in the food business these days if you adopt the shaking style. My earnings have increased after I switched to offering the shaking snacks.”

Business is booming, for now, but like other sensations, will the shaking fruit run out of hype and become a run-of-the-mill product or worse? Hải has already noticed the difference.

“There aren’t long queues waiting for my dish these days, however, I still manage to sell approximately 100 kilos of mango every day. People keep coming back for the original taste of my shaking mango,” he said.

Originality aside, Hải said he has been spurred by strong competition to look for ways to perfect his Shaking Mangoes recipe, and to prepare “other creative alternatives”.

Meanwhile, foodies like me will sit back, munch on a few spicy slices, and ruminate on whether the shaking mango will gradually assimilate into the amazing repertoire of Vietnamese street food or fizzle out like a fad.

Watch this space. – VNS

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