By Hà Nguyễn & Hồ Hoàng
Rau bí or pumpkin buds are a popular ingredient in many dishes in Việt Nam but the best is rau bí xào tỏi (stir fried with garlic), said Phạm Tuấn Hải, a former judge on Việt Nam Master Chef.
Hải said he had been addicted to rau bí xào tỏi cooked by his grandmother since he was a child. “I still remember that my grandmother would often wake up early in the morning to go to our garden to cut the pumpkin buds and bring them home to carefully peel and cook with garlic.”
Rau bí xào tỏi (stir fried pumpkin leaves with garlic), a specialty of Việt Nam. — Photo phunutoday.vn
“When I was trying to help my grandmother, she explained the most difficult process was peeling the pumpkin buds. Only a few people can do it, including my mother,” Hải said.
“I will never forget that,” he said, adding that apart from stir fried with garlic, his grandmother also cooked well several other tasty dishes such as rau bí xào thịt bò (stir fried with beef), rau bí luộc (boiled pumpkin buds) with boiled eggs and rau bí nấu hến (mussels) which helped to reduce the summer heat.
Phạm Hòa Nguyên, 58, a maths teacher from Hà Nội’s Hai Bà Trưng District, said: "I often buy organic veggies from a friend of mine. After cleaning and peeling the buds very carefully, I peel the garlic and crush it and fry it in oil in a pan before stirring in the pumpkin buds over a big flame with a little fish sauce.”
Nguyên said the buds should be stirred quickly for five minutes so the veggies don't turn yellow.
“You should squeeze a little lemon over the dish to make it more delicious,” she said, telling me a secret that the veggies should be parboiled before frying. "This makes them stay green and crispy. The dish is so enjoyable I can eat two plates at the same time,” Nguyên said.
She said when she visited restaurants, it was the first dish she ordered.
Different from Nguyên, Nguyễn Văn Cúc, 90, from the northern province of Cao Bằng, said he often fries rau bí with shrimp paste. By doing it this way, the dish is more tasty, sweet and crispy with the fragrant shrimp paste that leaves the mouth watering.
“Cúc’s dish is much more enjoyable,” Cúc’s friend Bùi Thị Lai said, adding that she had already learned the secret.
Boiled pumpkin dips with boiled chicken eggs are very good for your health because it helps to cool down heat from body's inside. Photo comnieulanhuong.com
Nguyễn Thị Lợi, 45, from Vĩnh Phúc Province, has hired a plot of land along the Red River under Nhật Tân Bridge in Hà Nội to grow pumpkins to sell to customers and restaurants in the city.
In the past, she faced many difficulties such as flooding but after the Hòa Bình Hydroelectricity Plant went into operation in 1994, now Lợi can make a profit of between VNĐ10 and VNĐ15 million (US$431 and $647) a month compared with VNĐ 1.5-2 million from growing rice in her native village.
To supply increasing demand, Lợi has to cut the pumpkin buds at two o’clock in the morning to be ready for her husband to take to Vĩnh Phúc where dozen of his relatives are ready to peel them and ship them off to customers and restaurants in Hà Nội.
“Luckily, our relatives can peel the rau bí well so we've built a good reputation,” Lợi said.
People peel pumpkin buds, the most difficult process before cooking. — Photo dantri.com.vn
Housewife Lê Thị Hải in Hà Nội’s Hai Bà Trưng District said she likes eating rau bí xào tỏi very much but she does not know how to peel the vegetables. “Thanks to Lợi’s quality pumpkin buds, I can eat my favourite dish any time I like.”
Quán Ăn Ngon Restaurant owner in Hà Nội, Phạm Bích Hạnh said diners often order rau bí xào tỏi in winter to warm up their bodies, and rau bí nấu hến (mussels) in summer to cool them down. “These dishes sell very well at my restaurant.”
Meanwhile, herbalist Nguyễn Văn Hòa of the Thái Bình Traditional Medicine Centre said rau bí and its flowers are not only used for cooking but also for treating ailments such as burns and coughs, and they support the cardiovascular system.
“The pumpkin’s flowers are considered the most nutritious part.
They are rich in protein, calcium, folic acid and other minerals. It particularly helps reduce tiredness and supports a good sleep,” Hòa said.
He warned, however, that people should not eat too much rau bí because it could cause harm to their livers. — VNS