Viet Nam News
Beef, pork and chicken are staples of any restaurant menu. Goat, however, is considered a little more exotic. Thúy Hằng visits a spot in Hà Nội that specialises in the meat, and tries out some dishes.
It has been more than 15 years since my last visit to a restaurant in Hà Nội that specialises in goat meat. The venue is very popular among Hanoians, and you are sure to find several noisy groups huddled around the tables. I must admit that my palate is fairly ’conservative’, and therefore any meat beyond the staples, such as pork, beef or chicken, I see as ‘exotic’. As a non-adventurous eater I’ve avoided goat meat for a long time.
However, I was recently invited for lunch at a new restaurant – Song Dương, which also specialises in goat meat dishes. Compared with the restaurant I experienced more than a decade ago, Song Dương seems like a different world. Instead of the low metal tables and plastic chairs, the eatery boasts wooden furniture and up-market decor. The exposed-brick walls add an air of authenticity, and are adorned with the words Dê Ré (literally meaning young goat) in graffiti. The atmosphere oozes class. While in the old restaurant patrons enjoyed cheap homebrew, here the drinks included foreign wine, and a bottle of Absolut Vodka was placed on almost every table. A group of men were even smoking cigars.
According to the restaurant’s representative Nguyễn Thị Hằng, dê ré are young goats, weighing between 17 and 20kg, which have not yet lost their baby teeth. “The different growth phases of a goat cause differences in the quality of the meat. For dê ré, the meat is firm, with less fat, and tastes better than that of an adult goat,” she said.
She also said that the restaurants’ owners, once being Việt Nam’s number one tenor Trọng Tấn, have invested in a 100-hectare goat farm in the mountainous province of Hòa Bình to ensure a stable source of meat for the Song Dương Restaurant chain as well as to ensure a consistent quality. Alongside this new venue, there is a sister restaurant located in Cầu Giấy District.
We started our lunch with a small plate of dê ủ trấu. Dê ủ trấu refers to a method of cooking, in which the goat, after being slaughtered and cleaned, is stuffed with lemongrass and “buried” in a small heap of rice husks, which are then burned. Cooked slowly by the long-lasting heat of rice husk ash, the goat meat will become medium rare, leaving it slightly pink and with a smoky aroma.
High quality: The restaurants’ owners, once being Việt Nam’s number one tenor Trọng Tấn, have invested in a 100 hectare goat farm in the mountainous province of Hòa Bình to ensure a stable source of meat for the Song Dương Restaurant chain. Photo courtesy of Song Dương restaurant.
Goat dishes are incomplete without a complementary sauce –brown soya sauce. I dipped a piece of dê ủ trấu into the sauce and enjoyed the mixture of flavours – the meat tender and succulent with the familiar flavour of the sauce offering a perfect addition. And don’t ignore the other ingredients, including sliced green banana and star fruit, which are meant to enhance the taste of the dish.
The next dish was goat sausage. The bite-sized sausages can be a delightful appetizer for any party so should be enjoyed with a shot of liquor. On that day, we tried a bit of the vodka.
Dê tái chanh – thinly-sliced goat meat is mixed with lime fruit juice to make a kind of ceviche, then mixed with ingredients such as lemongrass, ginger, garlic, chili, pepper, sliced lime leaves, and sesame. With such an array of spices working together, the final result is extraordinary. This dish won’t leave you feeling bloated. And of course, the soya sauce is a crucial accompaniment.
We then tried stir-fried wild vegetables, seemingly a break before we were treated to the next course – dê ré nướng tảng or grilled goat. Hằng said that this method of cooking helps to keep the meat tender and succulent. The slabs of meat, weighing between 0.5 and 1kg, have been seared before being marinated in a secret recipe created by the chef, then grilled for about 10 minutes.
Our lunch also included cơm lam chiên – golden rice sticks which are cooked in bamboo tubes before being fried. The advantage of this dish was not having to struggle to remove the bamboo! Normally, this sticky rice is served with a mixture of salt, peanuts and sesame which helps to enhance the taste, but I found they work equally well with the soya sauce.
Lẩu cua dê – field crab hotpot with goat meat was our last dish. I had almost had enough meat for the day, but the lightly sour broth helped to settle the heavy feeling in my stomach caused by the abundance of food.
After enjoying the array of delicious dishes at Song Dương, I can safely say my conservative tastes have changed. I’m keen to return and sample the rest of the 39-dish menu. Thanks to the high quality of the meat and the care taken over the cooking techniques, I’m glad to say that goat meat has a permanent place in my diet.
Dê Ré Song Dương Restaurant
Address: 13 Liễu Giai St, Ba Đình Dist (Hotline: 0911903939)
39 Trần Kim Xuyến St, Cầu Giấy Dist (Hotline: 0934203939)
Opening hours: 10am – 10pm