By Thúy Hằng
On my travels to Việt Nam’s northern mountainous provinces in previous years, I have been lucky enough to sample different dishes of different ethnic groups – some that I had never tried, some strange, and some fantastic for their distinctive flavours that is still etched in my mind.
For any city-dweller who has been seduced by unique ethnic cuisine, especially from those groups living in the northwest, he or she no longer needs to travel far to enjoy the food. A new restaurant in Hà Nội’s Ba Đình District can satisfy a longing for these special, unique ethnic dishes.
|A Bản Mountain Dew restaurant showcases the best of ethnic cuisine using authentic ingredients available only in the mountainous region.— VNS Photo Thúy Hằng
Run by sister and brother Phạm Kiều Duyên and Phạm Việt, A Bản Mountain Dew restaurant showcases the best of ethnic cuisine using authentic ingredients available only in the mountainous region. They do not hesitate to show their ambition to make the restaurant a place to present the rich culture of the region as well as the gastronomy.
They named their restaurant "A Bản" as the Mông ethnic people always put the name of a man with the letter A first, while “Bản” literally means “ethnic village”. The pronunciation of "A Bản" sounds like a joyful cheer.
“Wow, we have arrived at the mountainous village,” said Việt, who is also the restaurant’s executive chef and research and development director.
Stepping through its entrance, guests immerse themselves in a space replicating the atmosphere of a mountainous village with stone walls and a small stream.
The interior was designed with a strong inspiration from popular images of the mountainous region such as terraced fields, streams and floating clouds embracing mountain peaks.
The decorative colourful ethnic patterns have been used to adorn the restaurant’s second-floor venue, while the private rooms on the third floor have been named after the four famous passes in the northwestern region: Mã Pì Lèng, Pha Đin, Khau Phạ, and Ô Quy Hồ.
Our lunch started with Nộm bì trâu (Buffalo skin salad, VNĐ195,000) – a popular dish for Thái people living in the northwestern region.
|Buffalo skin salad. — VNS Photo Thúy Hằng
The salad consisted of banana flowers, different kinds of aromatic herbs and, of course, as its name states – thin slices of buffalo skin, which, without being told otherwise, I thought might be jellyfish.
According to CEO Duyên, the processing of the buffalo skin is the most elaborate and time-consuming. The skin needs to burn until all the hair is gone and the skin is cooked. The skin then needs to soak in water for 2-3 days until it looks like a large piece of jelly.
“You need to change the soaking water continuously,” Duyên said.
Another must-have ingredient that creates the special taste of the salad is sour bamboo shoot water.
To get the sour water, the fresh bamboo shoots are soaked in water with vinegar for at least one year. Similar to lime juice, the bamboo water brings a mild sour taste while granting the distinctive flavour of sour bamboo shoots.
Duyên said that unlike other salad dishes made by the Kinh people using sugar, vinegar (or lime juice), and fish sauce, the buffalo skin salad used only salt and sour bamboo water.
The two main ingredients for our salad were supplied by locals in Phỏng Lái Village in Thuận Châu District in Sơn La Province.
Our tasting journey continued with a Western-styled offering – pizza topped with bamboo worms (VNĐ220,000). Instead of the popular toppings you get in Italian restaurants such as chorizo, pepperoni and mushrooms, the A Bản version features the invertebrate creatures.
|Pizza topped with bamboo worms. — VNS Photo Thúy Hằng
Julienned lime leaves and mắc mật leaves, used as an indispensable ingredient for several dishes made by Tày and Nùng ethnic groups, were also found in this fusion dish. It’s the aromatic flavour of the leaves, together with the buttery taste of the bamboo worms that creates the unique taste.
Like many others, I had never sampled the hedgehog meat until our lunch at A Bản. However, the taste of the appetizer Nhím gác bếp (Smoked hedgehog meat, VNĐ720,000) is exactly the same as the smoked buffalo and pork that I had tried before, as the chef used the same marinating ingredients and wood-smoking method to flavour and cook the food.
My taste buds were truly conquered by the beetroot cured salmon (VNĐ390,000). The appetiser was fresh yet aromatic as the chef uses extra virgin táo mèo (a local apple species) juice and chẩm chéo, a condiment popular among the Thái living in the northwestern region, to marinate the fish.
Every dish in A Bản Restaurant is a slice of ethnic cuisines. The tender steamed veal (VNĐ285,000) has been enhanced by mẳm hén sauce, made from the invertebrate hén that lives mainly in streams in the northwest.
We also had a chance to taste stream fish soup and pickled young cassava leaves (VNĐ265,000) – a dish of the Mường in Hòa Bình Province.
|Five-colour sticky rice, and khau nhục (slow-cooked pork belly). — VNS Photo Thúy Hằng
The lunch also featured the Mông ethnic dish Khau nhục (VNĐ170,000) – slow-cooked pork belly served together with Xôi ngũ sắc (Five-colour sticky rice, VNĐ85,000). A Bản founder Duyên said that this melting, tender yet savoury dish used meat of free-range pigs.
“The meat is fried quickly in boiling oil then marinated with several local spices before being placed in a steamer for 8-10 hours,” she said.
Cơm lam, sticky rice cooked in a bamboo tube, a very popular dish in the mountainous region, was also present on the menu. However, the simple dish has been upgraded by a truffle dipping sauce. The nice purple colour of the rice has been dyed using cẩm tím leaves. The rice was so enticing that we couldn’t stop eating and enjoying it.
Lạp sườn gác bếp (Ethnic smoked sausage with baked goat cheese) is also a must-try. This appetiser is a perfect match with a glass of wine.
|Sticky rice cooked in bamboo tube served with truffle dipping sauce. — VNS Photo Thúy Hằng
Chef Việt said that the goat cheese was the product of a Việt Nam-based French cheesemaker, who creates dairy products from milk in Ba Vì – one of Việt Nam’s major regions for milk-producing.
|Tây Bắc crème brulee. — VNS Photo Thúy Hằng
The Tây Bắc crème brulee (VNĐ45,000) is a fusion result between French crème brulee and the speciality Rượu nếp hấp trứng (Steamed fermented sticky rice with egg) of Cao Bằng Province. Less sugar and buttery than the French original version, it has a delicate slight wine taste.
The drink list features some nice cocktails using ingredients that are available only in mountainous areas such as mắc khén (wild pepper), wild apricot and táo mèo.
Following the government’s latest directive on COVID-19 restrictions, A Bản Mountain Dew is temporarily closed until further notice. Their delivery menu will be updated soon. — VNS
A BẢN MOUNTAIN DEW RESTAURANT
Address: 76 Trần Phú Street, Ba Đình District, Hà Nội
Hotline: 08 5678 7678
Comment: Tasty ethnic food. Nice décor presents the ethnic culture of the northern mountainous region. Not only a place to enjoy food, but also to learn about the local ethnic culture.