Barb salad helps put Bắc Giang on the map as a culinary destination

November 02, 2021 - 08:17
The province of Bắc Giang is not only well known for its litchi but also barb salad, a rural dish that is often made for guests because it has a very special flavour.

Duy An

The province of Bắc Giang is not only well known for its litchi but also barb salad, a rural dish that is often made for guests because it has a very special flavour.

Nguyễn Tường Hải, who works in Hà Nội, invited his friends to his native village of Lý Viên Hamlet in Bắc Giang’s Hiệp Hòa District, the birthplace of barb salad.

Hải said to the dish is not difficult to make but it takes skill to avoid an overly fishy odour.

Bắc Giang's barb salad was chosen as one of the best dishes of the Culinary Guinness in 2012. Photo

When his friends arrived, Hải went to his family pond to catch several barbs, saying fish weighing 0.7-0.8kg are ideal.

“Our fish are good for the dish because we raise them in water without any substances," he said, adding that the fish should be carefully cleaned.

Hải said he has learned how to cook the dish from his grandfather. The secret is that after skinning the fish, it is cut into thin pieces and dried with blotting paper.

Ingredients to marinate the fish include ground roasted rice, minced galangal root, broth, fish sauce and pepper.

Ingredients for barb salad include ground roasted rice, minced galangal and some others. Photo

The fish’s head should be used to make the dipping sauce. It is a special sauce to dip the barb salad in, Hải explained. “Without the sauce, the salad isn't as tasty.”

The fish head is sliced and mixed with galangal juice, fermented rice, minced garlic, chili and salt over a light fire for 15 minutes and stirred regularly. “This special sauce helps to put Bắc Giang on the map as the barb salad centre,” Hải said.

The special salad is great for groups. Photo

He said his grandfather told him that the salad should include herbs such as ming aralia, fig leaf, Indian oak, lettuce, guava leaf and several others.

“My grandfather said he picks almost 15 sorts of herbs in his own garden. These herbs are good for your health,” Hải said. 

The herbs should not be cleaned with water but wet tissue papers or a towel. This is a secret handed down from his grandfather to ensure the salad keeps its unique taste, he said.

The salad is an ideal dish to share among a group, Hải said.

When Hải brought the salad tray to the dining room, his friends were so happy, saying that their mouths were watering from the aromatic smell of the dish.

Hải told his guests to wrap the ingredients in rice paper and dip it in the sauce.

A tray with barb salad and special dipping sauce. Photo

One of his friends, Hoàng Mạnh Thắng, said: “I taste the savoury and buttery flavour of the fresh fish, nutty flavour of roasted peanut, smell of herbs, the sourness of star fruit and green banana.”

“I enjoy it so much,” Thắng said, noting that all of his friends agreed with him. They said they would never forget this speciality.

Hải told his guests that the dish is more enjoyable when using a fig leaf to wrap up the fish and its accompanying ingredients. “It will give you a special taste that will make you want to eat more and more.” 

Nông Văn Bằng from Bắc Giang Tourism Department says the barb salad’s birthplace of Lý Viên Hamlet in Hiệp Hòa District is always on the list of tour destinations of the province.

As a result, Bắc Giang’s barb salad and Lục Ngạn litchi were chosen among the 10 best dishes and fruits recognised by the Việt Nam Culinary Guinness in 2012. VNS