By Hoàng Lan & Hoàng Hồ
Apart from bòng bong (seaweed) salad, Lý Sơn Island in Quảng Ngãi Province is also famous for dishes like gỏi tỏi (fresh garlic salad) and different versions of ốc mặt trăng (moon face snail).
A local herbalist named Đinh Ngọc Tiến said bòng bong salad helps reduce cholesterol, can prevent digestive cancer and is particularly good for women’s health.
But the aromatic taste of gỏi tỏi and ốc mặt trăng are truly unforgettable.
Lý Sơn Island is well known in Việt Nam as the home of quality garlic for its much more aromatic flavour than garlic from the rest of the country.
To make gỏi tỏi, farmers grow male garlic and to ensure it is fresh and tasty, they pick the plants from the field, bringing them home to cook right away, he said.
Tiến told us how to make the garlic salad.
After cleaning the plants, they are cut to 10-15cm each are parboiled and put in a basket to make the pungent flavour turn light and fragrant, he said, warning that parboiling carefully is key to ensure the fresh garlic remains crispy.
The ingredients to make the salad include basil, sugar, fish sauce, green onion, morning glory, roasted peanut and a little peanut oil, Tiến said.
The dish is eaten with rice crackers in the south or grilled dried pancake in the north.
“The grease of the cracker mixes with the special aromatic flavour of garlic salad make the dish much more enjoyable for diners,” he said.
“Fishermen in my village often eat the salad after long fishing trips at sea because the food helps release their exhaustion and improve their health,” Tiến said.
He led us to visit his huge garlic farm, which was such a rare and impressive sight that my elder son drew a painting of the field on the spot.
“Though our land here was once volcanic, thanks to locals’ hard work, we are very proud to have our own speciality. Lý Sơn garlic and gỏi tỏi are well known across Việt Nam,” Tiến said.
Tiến also allowed us to cut a bunch of fresh garlic so we could bring the Lý Sơn speciality to Hà Nội.
Ốc mặt trăng (moon face snail)
“We call the snail moon face because its brain covering its mouth is round which also looks like a shirt button. Its meat is crispy and sweet like perfume snail. The ốc mặt trăng can be cooked into dishes such as fried it with butter, boiled, steamed or grilled,” said islander Huỳnh Thị Viền.
Although available at many beaches, Lý Sơn Island has the best snails, due to the island’s special geography and nature, she said.
Thanks to such good conditions, catching snails is a good job for many locals as it can bring as much as VNĐ10 million (US$430) per month for a farmer during snail season in the fifth to sixth lunar months of the year, Viền said.
She said boiled snail is her families' favourite dish. Though boiling the snails is easy, making the dipping sauce is a different matter.
“I often get fresh ginger, citronella from my garden, chili, garlic and fish sauce made by myself to make dipping sauce for boiled snails," she said.
“Viên’s sauce is so delicious that I often ask her to make me a big bowl each time we eat boiled snails. Dipping a crispy snail and drinking a little sauce is really enjoyable,” said one of Viên’s relatives, Thu Hương, who owns a snail shop.
Hương said apart from boiled snails, a lot of visitors, particularly foreign tourists, to the island are interested in grilled snails with butter.
“They like the aromatic fragrance from grilled snails mixed with butter in salted lime sauce with peppers,” she said.
Thanks to the almost untouched nature and these special dishes, the island is becoming a more popular tourists destination. VNS