Vietnamese cuisine has various versions of sticky rice, like mung bean sticky rice with crispy fried shallots, chicken sticky rice or corn sticky rice that can be eaten all year round, but there is only one that is enjoyed in autumn – quail over sticky rice.
Every autumn when the rice harvest season comes, flocks of quails fly back from the north to avoid the cold and swoop down to the fields to eat scattered grains. Therefore, October is also considered the season of quails, which is a special speciality in northern Việt Nam in autumn.
To the farmers, the bird is a nutritious dish during tiring days of harvesting. The birds often gather in areas of luxuriant foliage, catching worms or eating scattered rice grains on the ground, so they are easy to catch. With a simple trap made of two small nets and a quail as bait, the hunter can catch a whole flock for sale or an additional dish for the meal.
The quail is rich in nutrition and has a distinctive flavour. According to herbalist Nguyễn Văn Phúc from Thiên Nam General Clinic, the meat contains protein, fat, calcium, mineral salts, iron and vitamins, which helps to nourish the body, regulate and improve overall health, and therefore it is advisable for debilitated and malnourished people.
Naturally caught and fed on fresh grains, the texture of the meat is totally different from raised birds. It is firm, a little fatty, sweet and has a subtle fragrance of rice.
One of the tastiest ways to enjoy the meat is to cook it with sticky rice. The perfect material is Hoa Vàng glutinous rice with white and fragrant grain or those planted on the terraced fields in the north. The rice is soaked with water for at least five hours to soften it, washed and let dry before being mixed with a little salt and spices.
According to Đặng Trường, a chef of Kiến Restaurant in Hà Nội, the cook should follow specific stages while steaming the rice, such as keeping a close watch on the fire and the rice should be properly cooked to preserve its softness and aroma.
“The cook should also add a few drops of cooking oil to make the grains soft and shiny. Some experienced cooks even steam the rice with quail to blend it with the fat.”
The most delicious quails are young ones that are about to learn to fly as their meat is softer and sweeter. After being cleaned, the meat is minced, mixed with spices and fried with onions. The cooled sticky rice is mixed with the meat and the compound is steamed again.
The dish is most delicious when it is eaten hot. A little fried onion, coriander and pork floss could be added to its top to trigger the taste. The diner can feel the aroma of new rice mixed with the bird meat that will certainly tickle anyone’s taste buds.
Quail is only available in northern Việt Nam in autumn so, in other months of the year, the cook can use other kinds of bird meat instead like pigeon, duck or even chicken, but they aren't as delicious.
If the dish is cooked with pigeon, it could be made into another irresistibly delicious version: crispy fried pigeon sticky rice. The ground meat, fried and mixed with spices, pâté de foie gras, fried onions and boiled lotus seeds, are stuffed inside the sticky rice and then the whole texture is fried until golden.
The complete dish has an eye-catching colour and a cute round shape. It is crispy on the outside, and the inside is wrapped with a richly-seasoned pigeon meat filling, the taste of which is certainly pleasant to the strictest food-lover.
Here are some suggested addresses where you can try quail over sticky rice:
1. Chim Bốn Mùa Restaurant
Add: 187 Ngô Gia Tự, Vũ Ninh Ward, Bắc Ninh City
Tel: 0987 771 899
2. Oanh Restaurant
Add: 14 Hòe Nhai Street, Hà Nội
3. Bò Tơ Quán Mộc Restaurant
Add: 102 Thái Thịnh Street, Hà Nội
Tel: 094 195 8899. VNS