Chè: the ideal summer snack

Update: June, 12/2018 - 21:14
Nutritious: The ingredients used to make sương sa hạt lựu sweet gruel. Photos courtesy of Quán Ăn Ngon Restaurants in Hà Nội.
Viet Nam News

Hà Nguyễn

Việt Nam has many different kinds of chè – sweet soup, which vary to suit the climate of each season. In the hot summers, a cup of sương sa hạt lựu – a sweet gruel made of fresh water chesnuts mixed with several other ingredients – helps one to cool down when eating it.

I have eaten such soup in Sài Gòn and Đà Nẵng, but the most enjoyable one I’ve had was in the Quán Ăn Ngon Restaurant chain in Hà Nội.

Go pink: Fresh water chestnuts cut into shapes and dyed pink, locally known as hạt lựu.

To me it’s the best because of its crispy fresh water chestnuts, buttery green beans, crispy seaweed agar and fragrant coconut extract.

Lê Kim Chi, an employee of Quán Ăn Ngon Restaurant in Hà Nội, said the name of the pudding is exquisite, but its origins are from street vendors around the city, who sell the delicious desserts at an affordable price.

“It is a popular dish, and a specialty of Việt Nam,” she said, noting that the soup brings special memories to Vietnamese people when they eat it.

Sweet tooth: A bowl of mixed green beans, sugar and vanilla helps to make chè more enjoyable.

Making it requires a lot of time and meticulous work. Ingredients for a four person serving include 30 fresh water chestnuts, cut into pieces and dyed pink, red or green, which are then covered with water chestnut powder, and boiled before being put into icey water.

Chi said other requirements include soaking seaweed in water, before boiling it and stirring it until it becomes agar.

Other ingredients include green beans and pandan leaves which are narrow, long and pointed at the tip. When attached to their stems, they resemble giant green feather dusters. The soup also makes use of white sugar and coconut juice, Chi said.

The pandan must be grinded well, kneaded and filtered to get the extract from them. They’re then mixed with water chestnut powder (100g), vanilla, and sugar (five spoonfuls) and one litre of water. The mix is boiled until the ingredients are cooked, at which point a squeezer is used to press them into threads (similar to rice vermicelli) which are put into a pot of icy water. People call these threads sương sa.

Healthy: Fresh water chestnuts, the main ingredient of chè sương sa hạt lựu.

The green beans should be soaked in water for two hours and flayed before boiling. They should then be left to cool in the refrigerator, said Chi.

Each cup should include dyed water chesnuts, seaweed agars, green beans and coconut juice. “It is much more enjoyable when you add ice and banana oil,” she said.

Nguyễn Thị Đào, 68, Việt kiều from Canada, recalled: “Since I was a little girl I have been interested in this kind of chè. I used to buy it from a shop near our home in Hà Nội. I told my mother to buy some for us every day in the summer. I loved all the colours.

Chè sương sa hạt lựu can be eaten over and over because it is so delicious, cool, and is not too sweet like black bean porridge,” said Đào.

Refreshing: A tasty and cool cup of Vietnamese dessert.

She noted that she often asked her relatives in Việt Nam to send her the fresh water chestnuts (the main ingredient of the gruel) to make sương sa hạt lựu at home in Canada.

“Each time I cook it, I invite all my nieces and nephews. They enjoy the food so much. My grandchildren also like the chè, and they like saying its name, which they think sounds luxurious.”

Herbalist Trần Văn Vinh from the National Hospital of Traditional Medicines said the water chestnuts can be used as an effective herbal medicine to treat constipation, high cholesterol, improve the immune system and assist those suffering from insomnia.

“People in rural areas often use water chestnuts to treat fevers and colds for their children. It is popular all over the country,” said Vinh.

“Nowadays, the trend of eating frugal food is growing, and sương sa hạt lựu sweet gruel is a favourite due to its healing effects of the body,” he noted. — VNS