Viet Nam News
By Hà Nguyễn
Banana flower salad, a popular dish in Việt Nam, is known in the north as nộm bắp chuối and as gỏi bắp chuối in the south.
It is one of the dishes that embodies the characteristics of rural areas across the country’s three regions.
Recently, the dish has cropped up as a specialty on restaurant menus because of its fresh flavours that help to cool diners in hot weather, said Phạm Tuấn Hải, member of the jury board of Master Chef Việt Nam.
Banana flowers from low land areas are often violet in colour, while those from the forests are red.
The best banana flower is fresh with a dark red colour and covered with white anther dust, said Hải.
“As a chef, I’ve tasted many dishes but my favourite is banana flower salad made by my mother, because it has a natural fragrance and flavour that I will never forget,” Hải said, sharing his mother’s recipe for the dish.
“My mother often cuts the flower into strips, before soaking them in salt water for 15-20 minutes so they don’t turn black. Then she lets them dry,” said Hải, noting that she prepares all ingredients such as star fruit or green mango, aromatic herbs, boiled pig’s ears and others before mixing them together.
She said she uses star fruit or strips of mango instead of vinegar because it helps make the dish less sour.
“My mother’s dish is not only of full of flavours, but also full of colours. The violet of the banana flower, the red of chili, yellow of roasted peanuts, green mango and star fruit,” Hải said. "The dish is not complete without a bowl of sauce, including quality fish sauce, garlic, sugar and lemon."
“It is very enjoyable because of the flavours of aromatic herbs, chilli, roasted peanuts, crispy boiled pig’s ear,” Hải recalled.
Banana flower salad is often eaten with grilled pancake.
“I was assigned to grill the pancake over a charcoal pot instead of grilling it over a fire because the cake shouldn’t be hard. So I was asked to grill it until it turns yellow and is more fragrant,” Hải said.
It’s not difficult to make the dish suitable for one’s own taste, but he said he keeps to his mother’s recipe.
“I don’t usually like making many changes, and over the past 30 years, my mother’s dish has become so familiar to me,” Hải said, noting that he often prepares the dish for big parties such as Lunar New Year festival when all family members are present.
A friend of mine, Trần Hằng Nga, who has lived in Australia for more than 20 years, said she often craves the dish.
“When returning to Việt Nam, I often ask my relatives to make banana flower salad,” she said, but added that she likes my food most because I asked my sister in the mountainous province of Cao Bằng to send me several forest banana flowers to make the salad for Nga.
Forest banana flowers are much sweeter and softer than those grown in low land areas.
“I can never forget the flavour from my childhood, and every time I taste the dish it brings me back to my home land,” Nga said.
Apart from being popular dishes for its unique and fresh flavours, banana flowers are said to have nutritional and health benefits.
Dr Hoàng Khánh Toàn, from Military Hospital 108’s Traditional Medicine department, said banana flowers can treat coughs, dysentery, and depression, as well as improve milk production in nursing mothers.
“It is really useful for Vietnamese people, particularly for those in rural areas where the plant is widely available. Thanks to banana flowers, many poor people suffering from ailments have recovered without the need for expensive or invasive treatment,” Toàn said. — VNS