By Hà Nguyễn & Hồ Hoàng
Quảng Bình is known far and wide for its virgin beaches and natural landscapes, and also a specialty known as cháo hàu (oyster congee).
Nguyễn Thu Thủy recently visited Quảng Bình and was impressed by the freshness and quality of the hàu (oysters) she tried there.
“I enjoyed it so much and will never forget the delicious taste at a shop in Quán Hầu Town where quality hàu are available in the brackish rivers running through the area."
Cháo hàu (oyster congee) of Quảng Bình is well known nationwide. Photo tinquangbinh.com
Local elder Ninh Thị Hường said the town was well known nationwide for tasty oyster dishes sourced from the Nhật Lệ River.
Hường said no one knows why the oysters found on the stretch of the river near the town were better than anywhere else.
Legend has it the farmers from surrounding areas used to bring their oysters to soak in the river near Quán Hàu Town to make them more tasty, but no one knows if that's true or not, she said.
Oysters can be used in a variety of dishes including with dried onions rolled in rice paper, sour soup or simply grilled.
“Among these dishes, cháo hàu is the most popular among locals and visitors,” Hường said.
Lê Súng has run Hoa Súng eatery which specialises in cháo hàu in the town for almost 20 years. He said being a specialty of Quán Hàu, the oysters are dense and at their most delicious in spring, particularly during Tết.
A bowl of cháo hàu O Mai in Quán Hàu Town is not only tasty but also rich in nutrition. Photo tinquangbinh.com
Asked about the secret to the dish, he said the oysters should be processed right after they are caught. After removing from their shells, the oysters should be mixed with dried onions, chilli, pepper, salt and fish sauce for half an hour before frying.
“I often use pig bones to make stock to make my cháo more tasty and sweet,” Súng said.
Cháo hàu is best enjoyed with herbs and chopped chilli soaked in shrimp sauce, he said, noting that the dish could be eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner. It is also suitable with a cup of wine.
Teacher Tạ Ngọc Anh from HCM City said each time she visits Quảng Bình she often goes to Quán Hàu Town to enjoy a bowl at Súng’s shop and learn how to cook it.
“My friends all agree that the dish is unforgettable,” Anh said.
Very few people know that harvesting oysters in the Nhật Lệ River is very tricky, said farmer Hoàng Quốc Trung who has spent years in the business.
Hàu (oysters) can be processed into many dishes. Photo tinquangbinh.com
“In the past my parents collected oysters by diving deep in the river and used a bamboo basket to hold them. By doing it this way, they caught many high quality oysters. Nowadays with a machine, my catch isn't as good,” Trung said, adding that many of his neighbours still use the old technique.
During the oyster season in spring, they can earn VNĐ1 million a day, he said, adding that many of them had become rich.
According to research by Dr Lê Thanh Hải, oysters are good for the health. They boost the immune system and with cardiovascular, eye and skin problems, and improve brain function, mood, blood vessels, bones and sex drive.
Molluscs like oysters are rich in nutrients including vitamins C, E and B12, Omega 3, and zinc and other minerals that are good for human health, so we should eat oysters every week, Hải advised. VNS