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Railside eatery offers a filling, fulfilling trip

Update: January, 12/2015 - 16:05
Quiet and noisy: The culinary journey of guests can be accompanied by the sound of a train-whistle from the rail line built by the French colonists during the first decades of the 20th century. — VNS Photos Truong Vi

A restaurant in Ha Noi serves culinary treats that revolve around a fruit grown in the northern mountains, and hopes the use of ingredients from the region proves fruitful to local households. Thuy Hang reports.

I had almost given up on finding a suitable restaurant for a reunion of old friends when a friend suggested a place next to the railway tracks in Ha Noi rescuing me in the nick of time.

Qua Tram restaurant specialises in mountain dishes made of qua tram (Canarium album fruit) which is grown in the northern mountainous region of Viet Nam.

Our culinary journey was accompanied by the sound of a train-whistle from the rail line built during the French colonial time in the first decades of the 20th century.

When it comes to cooking the canarium nuts, the first step is boiling, which is not as easy as it sounds.

"This step can seriously affect the quality of the dishes. If the fruit is boiled at the wrong temperature, the dish can be chewy as chewing gum," said Nguyen Thi Thuy, one of the restaurant's three owners.

Planting of canarium trees is a risky investment, as growers only know which tree can bear fruit after seven years. There are two kinds of fruit: black and white. While the black fruit is often used for cooking, the white ones are used to make salted and/or spicy seasoned dried preserve. At Qua Tram, the fruit goes into everything from pickles to fish stew and congee.

Made for each other: Smoked buffalo pairs perfectly with steamed sticky rice.

We started out with banana flower salad with charcoal-grilled anabas fish and black canarium nuts. The dish awakens the appetite with a light sweet and sour sauce and the scent of herbs. We followed it up with a speciality appetiser, lap xuong Cao Bang - plump smoked sausage from the northern mountainous region of Cao Bang consisting of coarsely chopped pork.

Our culinary journey continued with steamed sticky rice with black canarium served in a bamboo basket. Although the dark-coloured dish doesn't look mouthwatering, its taste is unique. The first bites taste a bit sour, but the dish gets more buttery the longer you chew.

Thuy, the owner said she chose only quality sticky rice grown on terraced fields in the northern mountainous region.

East meets West: Pan-seared beef roll with mushroom and black tram in pepper sauce is a Western-influenced dish.

The restaurant also serves xoi ngu sac, five-coloured sticky rice, with each colour created by a different kind of leaf or fruit. The green colour is from pandan leaves, the purple is from magenta leaves, the red is from red sweet gourd (momordica cochinchinensis) and the yellow is from curcumin. Both sticky rice dishes pair perfectly with Cao Bang sausage or smoked buffalo meat, another mountainous speciality.

Other dishes are more Western-influenced, such as pan-seared beef roll with mushroom and black canarium in pepper sauce. The meat comes from cows raised by ethnic Mong in the mountainous north.

Thanks to the cool climate and abundant grass, these cows have less fat than other popular breeds. The restaurant also serves Mong beef in salad, stew and as steaks, as well as grilling it wrapped in piper lolot leaves.

Restaurant

Address: 21 Phung Hung Street (section next to the Le Van Linh Street)

Price: From VND100,000-450,000.

Opening hour: 8am-10.30pm.

Comment: A cozy restaurant specialising in dishes from the mountainous north, especially those using tram fruit.

The beef hotpot makes an ideal dish for a chilly winter day. The light sour broth, together with green vegetables, perfectly balances the rich flavour of the beef.

Thuy and two close friends nurtured the idea of opening a restaurant serving regional specialities and safe food for years.

Their idea was finally realised when Thuy met Dao The Anh, director of the Centre for Agrarian Systems Research and Development (CASRAD), which helps farmers distribute their products. CASRAD became the main supplier of raw food for the restaurant.

"By using these safe ingredients, we hope to contribute to household economic development in the mountainous region and improve the health of the community," Thuy said. — VNS

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