Viet Nam News
It has now become common knowledge that the best one-day getaway from Hà Nội is Ninh Bình Province.
About 100km from the capital city, the place has numerous historical sites and scenic places, like the ancient capital of Hoa Lư, Bích Động Tam Cốc, the Tràng An tourism complex, and the Bái Đính Pagoda.
From a culinary standpoint, mountain goat specialties and cơm cháy (fried rice crisp with various toppings) are the attractions that stand out.
It was a very nice Sunday when we set out for the province. After enjoying a two-hour sightseeing tour on boat on the Sào Khê River we made our way to the Thăng Long Restaurant, which is about 3.5km from the Bái Đính Pagoda and 4km from the Tràng An Complex.
When we arrived at the restaurant on the banks of the Hoàng Long River with its imposingly high limestone mountains and immense green fields, it was already full of travellers.
However, several waiters enthusiastically welcomed us and led us to a table that already had various goat dishes and cơm cháy.
A beautiful waitress named Mẫn told us there were almost 20 different goat dishes that the restaurant serves, but recommended that we try the tái dê (VNĐ150,000), half-done goat meat (briefly dipped in boiling water) and seasoned with lime fruit juice, ginger, garlic, chillies, peppers and julienned lime leaves.
I’d heard of the dish, but was trying it for the first time. Mẫn showed me how to wrap the soft meat with raw banana slices and quả sung (figs - Ficus racemosa) in rice paper and dip it in soyabean sauce.
The dish’s mixed flavours won the approval of all our palettes. It was followed by dê nướng ngũ vị ( goat meat marinated with garlic, condiments and sugar, and roasted on wood charcoal); and dê xào lăn (stir-fried goat meat marinated with pineapple juice, curry powder and several other ingredients and served with fried, dry shallots and peanuts).
Sliced thrills: Boiled goat meat slices mixed with herbs. Photos courtesy of Thang Long Restaurant
The dê nướng ngũ vị (VNĐ200,000) smelt good and was delicious, having just right amount of smoky flavour, but the piece was rather big and a bit tough. My friend Lệ Hằng also found it tough and said she preferred the other dish.
“I like the dê xào lăn (VNĐ150,000). It is soft and peppery and goes well with the peanuts,” she said.
Restaurant manager Nguyễn Thị Nguyệt said the most popular dish among her customers was nầm dê nướng (goat breast cut into thin pieces and marinated with pepper, oyster sauce, chili sauce, minced citronella, garlic, salt, and sugar for about 30 minutes before being roasted.)
I liked the goat meat pieces (VNĐ180,000) steamed with perilla and citronella and dipped in Bần soyabean sauce mixed with sugar and eaten with raw plantain slices, pineapple and other herbs.
“This dish is very nutritious. It cools down the human body during summer,” Nguyệt said.
Nguyệt said she ordered goats from a man named Trương Văn Vĩnh in the mountainous Gia Hòa Commune in Hoa Lư District.
“Vĩnh’s goat herd is left to graze on their own in the mountains, but he still takes very good care of them to prevent them from falling ill.”
Nguyệt said she typically bought a goat weighing between 15-20kg to make her dishes. If it was too small or too big, the meat would not be as tasty, she explained.
I also enjoyed the popular dish, cơm cháy (VNĐ60,000/three pieces).
Cơm cháy, or rice crisp, is typically fried in oil until golden brown, then topped with pork floss or dried shrimp and chopped scallions, cooked by pouring boiling oil over them. Cơm cháy chà bông or cơm cháy tôm khô are popular versions of this dish.
But Nguyệt said she cooks her handmade cơm cháy with the most fragrant rice.
I liked her cơm cháy so much that I ordered more despite my friends’ advice that I will suffer indigestion from overeating.
Nguyệt said: “ I protect my cơm cháy ’copyright’ by selling it at my restaurant only, not in the market.”
“If you want my cơm cháy, you should call me. I’ll send it to you.” VNS
Thăng Long Mountain Goat Restaurant
Add: Trường Yên Village, Trường Yên Commune, Hoa Lư District.
Open: 9am-9pm every day
Comment: Goat specialties and cơm cháy (literally called scorched rice) are very enjoyable with affordable prices.