By Hà Nguyễn & Hồ Hoàng
Mộc Châu is most famous for its beautiful landscapes and fresh milk, but delicacies such as bê chao (pan-seared veal) have also helped spread the word about food in the area far and wide.
Located in the northwestern mountain province of Sơn La, about 185km from Hà Nội, Mộc Châu is said to be Việt Nam’s cattle breeding region.
Tasty and aromatic bê chao Mộc Châu (pan-seared veal) at Ngon Garden Restaurant in Hà Nội. VNS Photo Tuyết Mai
Local woman Thài Thị Bản from the Mông ethnic group said her cattle farm provided meat for restaurants in Mộc Châu to cook pan-seared veal.
Bản said the restaurant often orders calves that are just one-week old and have been hand-fed on corn to give them a fragrant, sweet meat which remains tender yet crisp after cooking.
“The calves are full of nutrition, which is good for children and the elderly,” Bản said.
Restaurant owner Nông Thị Vượng said she chose the healthiest calves and cubes the meat before marinating it in a special mix.
Chef Lê Đức Hải (right) at Ngon Garden. VNS Photo Tuyết Mai
Vượng said the process was very important to ensure the flavour of the dish. The ingredients for the dish to serve two include 300g of meat, chopped lemongrass, ginger, garlic, red chili, fermented soybean paste, rice vinegar, coriander, sugar, pepper, fish sauce, cooking oil and seasoning.
She said after the marinating for an hour, the meat should be fried until yellow and then combined with lemon leaves to add to the flavour.
Vượng warned, however, that meat should be constantly turned during cooking to ensure it did not get too tough or oily.
A plate of tasty bê chao Mộc Châu served by a local restaurant in Mộc Châu Town. VNS file Photo
She revealed the recipe to make a tasty sauce for the dish. Mix fried garlic with the lemongrass, chilli, water, rice vinegar, fermented soybean paste and sugar, and then simmer for five minutes.
“Lots of travellers visit Mộc Châu during autumn, and most of them order the dish,” Vượng said, adding she had heard customers urging fellow diners to try the dish.
Vượng’s restaurant also serves bê xào lăn (stir- fried veal), bê hấp sả (steamed veal with citronella) and bê tái chanh (veal salad with lemon).
There are many eateries serving the dish along Highway 6 running through Mộc Châu, but Vượng suggested trying out 64 and 70 Mộc Châu, 181 Xuân Bắc, and Đông Hải.
Those do not have a chance to travel to Mộc Châu should visit Ngon Garden Restaurant in Hà Nội to enjoy the dish.
Restaurant owner Phạm Bích Hạnh said the meat was delivered to her restaurant very early in the morning.
“Our chefs have travelled to Mộc Châu to learn the cooking technique. They learnt that the meat should be fried over a large flame to ensure it is well cooked but without burning the ginger and lemongrass,” Hạnh said.
Chef Nguyễn Văn Hải said: “The dish should be eaten hot to enjoy it at its best,” noting that he served hundreds of diners a day.
Hoàng Thúy Vân, a banker from PVComBank in Hà Nội, said she had become an addict of bê chao Mộc Châu since her trip to the area last year.
“During my five-day trip to Mộc Châu, my choice was always bê chao. I wan't sure where to find the dish in Hà Nội. Fortunately, my friend introduced me to Ngon Garden Restaurant where I enjoy the dish twice a week with my family,” Vân said, adding that her children and parents also like the dish because it’s soft and sweet.
The restaurant also offers a delivery service.
Unfortunately for Vân, the service doesn't stretch as far as HCM City or Đà Nẵng while she's away on business. VNS