Viet Nam News
By Bạch Liên
Many people are familiar with grilled pork, but far fewer have ever tasted grilled pork wrapped in grapefruit leaves. The dish is even unfamiliar to many food connoisseurs in Việt Nam, but not for the Mường ethnic group in Hòa Bình Province, the third largest among Việt Nam’s 53 minority groups.
The dish, known as chả cuốn lá bưởi, is very poplar in the country’s northwestern region. Bùi Văn Thào, a Mường resident of Bàn Ngòi Village in Tân Lạc District says he saw his grandparents making it since he was a child. Previously, the dish was only prepared on festive days, but now it has become a daily family staple.
Aromatic: To make chả cuốn lá bưởi, pork is wrapped in grapefruit leaves and grilled over the coal for about 30 minutes.— VNS Photo Thái Hà
The most important ingredient for this dish is the pork made from one of three pig species raised by the Mường. They are not kept in pigsties but allowed to roam freely in the forest. The recipe calls for the grapefruit leaves to not be too young or too old and carefully washed before wrapping the pork.
Thào reveals his family’s recipe. First, the pig belly is cut into small pieces. It is then mixed with pepper, minced onion, fish sauce, and glutamate. “It has also to be mixed with mắc khén seeds or dổi seeds,” Thào says.
Those two kinds of seed are typical and very important spices in Việt Nam’s northwestern mountainous regions for their special perfume and spicy taste.
The pork is then wrapped in grapefruit leaves, and then grilled over coal for about 30 minutes. The grapefruit leaves give off a perfumed smell.
Amusing: The funny shape of the bánh ốc nhọn pleases local children. —VNS Photo Bạch Liên
Thào explains that local people use grapefruit leaves because they can easily find them in the garden and they are big enough to wrap the pork pieces.
“We love this dish as it is delicious, simple to cook, and can cure diseases. We use those grapefruits leaves to cure fever, and heachache,” he says.
At Ngòi Hoa cultural and tourism village in Tân Lạc District, tourists are taught how to make chả cuốn lá bưởi in cooking classes.
However, there the recipe is somewhat different from the local traditional way.
The mắc khén, or dổi grain is replaced by peanuts, which can be found easily in Hà Nội or other cities. The Mường pork is replaced by regular pork available in any market.
Though it is not the same as the traditional version of Mường locals, this dish is very tasty.
Tradition: Bùi Văn Thào’s family has been making bánh ốc nhọn for centuries. — VNS Photo Bạch Liên
Local sticky rice cake
Among various other local specialties, Thào is also proud of a kind of cake made from sticky rice. It is named bánh ốc nhọn (cone-shaped cake).
Twice a week, family evenings are spent on preparation of this cake.
Local people call it bánh ốc nhọn because of its shape, which is similar to that of an ice-cream cone.
Thào explains that his family makes this cake for festive occasions, too, but for daily consumption he makes this cake in a very simple way. He takes sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves and then boils it in water for two to three hours.
On festive days the banana leaf is also stuffed with mashed green beans and pork, in addition to the sticky rice.
Its taste resembles that of bánh chưng (traditional glutinous rice cakes popular on the Lunar New Year).
“We make the cake in different forms, we can also make it square shaped. But this cake is most known in the region in the shape of a cone snail. My little daughter loves it,” he says, smiling while sitting in his wooden house on stilts and watching his daughter enjoy the local delicacy. — VNS