|Goat feast: The restaurant offers dozens of preparations of local grass-fed mountain goat, using both traditional and more modern techniques.
Goat is one of the local specialities in the mountainous province of Dien Bien. This cosy eatery serves up nearly 40 preparations of the flavourful meat, from stir-fries to barbecue. Thuy Ha reports.
It was my first trip to a northern mountainous province, Dien Bien. People had told me to try the local specialities: mountain buffalo and pork raised by ethnic villagers. I didn't expect to eat goat, but what I experienced was impossible to forget.
Local friends took us to a restaurant they said was one of the best in town for goat. It was a good choice. We couldn't help bursting out compliments after each course was served. We wanted the owner to introduce us to the dishes, but the local friend who managed to book us a private room couldn't fulfill that request, as the owner, Phuong, was constantly busy during the lunch hour. But after lunch, she sat down with us and we learned why everything was so tasty.
We started with de tai chanh, goat half-done in lime juice and spices. The dish is not easy to make, as the meat needs to be cooked just the right amount, so that it retains its juices but not its strong smell. We also enjoyed de hap, goat steamed plain.
Stir-fried dishes complement the steamed ones. In one dish, goat is stir-fried with banana flowers; in another, de chao mem, meat from the best part of the goat is steamed and then stir-fried until tender.
Phuong's involvement in the cooking process sets her restaurant apart from others.
"I have people do the cooking but I always do the seasoning," Phuong said. Preparation is key, she explained: "if the meat isn't marinated in the appropriate aromatic herbs and other spices or for the right length of time, no amount of cooking can save it."
|Rare treat: Stir-fried mountain goat is difficult to prepare, but the results can be breathtaking.
Nha hang Minh Buc
Add: Phan Dinh Giot, Dien Bien (near the city's stadium)
Tel: (0230) 3828243
Comment: One of the best restaurants in Dien Bien to sample the local specialty of mountain goat.
She buys goats on the hoof personally to make sure she gets the best quality meat. The best goats, Phuong said, weigh 25-30kg. The restaurant has an exclusive provider who goes to ethnic villages to get the goats, which eat only grass.
Phuong took over the restaurant from her parents, who ran it for 20 years. After over five years running the business, Phuong has created a diverse menu with nearly 40 choices. Her parents, who were born and raised in the Red River Delta but moved to Dien Bien in their 20s, offered only 10 or so goat dishes.
She also made the menu more diverse by importing cooking techniques from foreign cuisines. De chao, inspired by a trip to China, is one of the most popular imports. The Chinese preparation chao is similar to the Western technique of sauteing.
While Phuong made changes to satisfy customers' changing tastes, the basic techniques passed on by her parents remain the same. One of the courses she added to the menu is chao do xanh (rice porridge with green beans) that is made with goat stock. It's one of the most demanded courses, said Phuong, especially in winter, as it goes with meat dishes and rice wine better than steamed rice.
Some dishes may sound strange, but they are worth trying. We enjoyed barbecued intestines, cooked through a long and complicated process, and jelly-like blood pudding, which is always served last, although the similar pudding made with pig or duck blood is served as a starter in Ha Noi. Phuong explained that if eaten first, the jelly would ruin your taste buds for the dishes that followed.
I agreed, as its cool taste seemed to retain the sense and flavour of the goat in my mouth.
When it comes to discovering the cuisine of a new place, local friends can be an amazing resource. Thanks to my friends, during my few days in Dien Bien, I got to know the regional culture through the food. — VNS