Well-known for the grilled dishes of mountain animals, the villages of the Muong people in the West of Thanh Hoa also have so many more surprises for the tourists such as the ant cake or the sour bacon.
Closely connected with the forests, rivers and fields, Muong people often make use of the natural materials available to a variety of new and astonishing family meals. But unlike the people in the city, who seem to always have a lot of snacks surround them, the people here use whatever they can improvise and create the dishes that no one can ever forget.
Ant’s egg sticky cake
In order to make the cakes, the Muong has to travel to the forest to find trees with ant nests on it, for example, the bamboo. After collecting the eggs, then the bakers have to measure the amount of rice. The rice, after soaking for a while in the water, will be grind into flour and then mixed with the eggs. Then the bakers will pour water into the flour so the flour can become pappy and the baker can mold the flour into balls. The cake then will be wrapped with fig leaves and then put into the oven to distillate for half an hour. Wait until the cake is cool down and then you can enjoy it. The wonderful smell of the flour, the fatness of the eggs creates a special flavor for this mountain cuisine that cannot be found in the city.
The cake is used as the tribute to the ancestors at the full moon in yearly Lunar March, as the gift for neighbors. In addition to that, using the ant’s eggs, the Muong can use them to cook along with the sticky rice, fried with the vegetables, but the best is still the cake.
Sour bamboo frog soup
Frog and sour bamboo are the two most available foods in the mountains, so the people here can easily use them in so many different dishes. One of the combinations is the sour bamboo frog soup. The frog can be collected from the rice field, the streams, or ponds and put them into the cage so they can secrete out all the slime. After preparing, the frogs are fried with spices so that the meat can be tougher. The chef can the washes the sour bamboo and cook along with the fried frog.
This is an everyday meal of the Muong, and the soup is also used to serve the guests at special events. Back in the monarchy days, the soup was the main dish to serve the dukes and princes.
Three color sticky rice
The Muong usually uses the fruit around them to create the colors for the sticky rice. The specific fruit used to make the colors is the mulberry. In order to make the three colors, the cook usually makes three water pots and then pours the rice in. Until the rice obtains the color of the water, then the rice will be extracted. In order to keep the rice separately, they use banana leaves to do the job.
The duiker is a small African antelope that typically has a tuft of hair between the horns, found mainly in the rain forest, which is the typical environment in Vietnam.
Sour fish, sour meat
When captured the duiker, the Muong usually uses dried leaves to burn the hair outside, than skin the duiker with a knife. The duiker meat is sliced into cubes and then stick the meat into a bamboo stick and grilled it on fire. The big fire will cook the outside, sometimes burned, but leaves the inside undercooked, which is perfect. The meat will then eat along with some herbs, salt and some other ingredients. Lemon plays a crucial part in this delicious and wild dish. The dish has all the flavors of the mountains and the wilderness: the incredible flavor of meat, the sour of lemon, the strong taste of the spices. And don’t forget to bring along a bottle of Vietnamese vodka.
The Muong from the mountains can usually hunt an abundance of meat, so the people here invented to store their food by using salt. The meat is firstly soaked with salt and wine. After wrapping the meat in dong leaves, banana leaves, the Muong will sew the meat packages and hang them off the ground. Left them for about 2 weeks, the meat will be sour, and the same time sweet and can be tough to chew.
Not only meat is stored like that, fishes also can be stored to use another day. Fishes such as carp, perch, cloves fish are usually cleaned, and then soaked with salt, bitter eggplants to increase the sourness. Each kind of fish has a different type of bottle. They use the dried banana leaves to seal the bottle, and on the outside, they use a layer of ash to cover it. Day by day, they will add another lay of ash to cover the stored bottles. After six months, the fishes are ready to use. (448)