Kon Tum is the capital town of Kon Tum Province in Vietnam. It is located inland in the Central Highlands region of Vietnam, near the borders with Laos and Cambodia.
Nature has given to the land of Kom Tum its majestic and unspoiled beauty which cannot be found anywhere else. Combining the gifts from nature and their creativity and diligent, the people here have created so many delightful dishes that you cannot miss while visiting this beauty of nature.
Herbs Salad – Gỏi lá
Visiting Kon Tum, the city on the mountain at the northernmost of the Highlands, you should definitely stop by and try the Kon Tum peculiar herbs salad. The herbs are depicted from more than 40 types of leaves, many are familiar, and some are rare and hidden deep in the jungle of the Highlands.
A few types of herbs or leaves (cannot extensively name all of them in this little introduction) are buds sesame, dirt ginseng, rubies, apricot, guava, cinnamon, basil, Ming Aralia, plantains, brooch, earth boat, and many more. However, there are only three must-have herbs: apricot, fig leaf and Ming Aralia. Using the leaves to make a cone-shaped container to put the food in, you would like to use some bacon, fried shrimp, sliced pork skin, and some fried rice flour to put in. The sauce is made of the local’s wine, cooking oil, and eggs. You also want to use some pepper (the entire nut), salt, green chili, to eat along with the salad. Wrapping enough layers of herbs, adding in the core, dipping into the sauce, you have to slowly chew the salad to detect the bitter, sweet, sour, and fat from all of the ingredients.
After each roll like that, you should remember to take a sip of wine made of the roots of the Ming Aralia. Finally, you will also need to have a bit of snakehead porridge to warm the belly. According to the locals, eating a lot of herbs is good for your health because in those herbs are medicines that you cannot find anywhere else. They could help patient with cardiovascular disease, gastrointestinal.
Corn rice – Cơm lam
Corn rice is truly a wonder in the cuisine list of the Highlands. In order to make the corn rice, expertise and meticulous attention are enormously required. First, you must select the raw corn plant, cut in half, remove the covers, use the corn leaves to cover it, put water inside the cover, and boiled it. The corn is now turned to rice, which is white, soft, and best, able to melt (melt sticky rice). Soaking the rice, washing it, adding in some salt, you can now put the rice into the tube, add in some water; boil the rice on the fire until it is ready.
When the rice is cooked, you need to carefully remove the burnt area outside of the tube covering the white cooked rice inside, and cut the tube into either five or seven parts. When eating, you only have to remove a very thin bamboo layer outside covering the white rice inside. Eating the rice, you also want some chicken, grilled pork in bamboo tree, but the simplest and the best is to eat with sesame.
When eating, you can easily detect the fat of the rice, the taste of the jungle in every bite. Even without complement food, it is still the wonder of this land.
Grilled farm pig – Heo rẫy nướng
Farm pigs are all naturally fed and grown. The locals don’t house these pigs but let them run wild outside of the environment. Because of such reason, their meat is sweet, strong, and nutritious with less fat and thin skin. The biggest one couldn’t heavier than 20kg. After cleaning the hair, removing the organ and marinating from the jungle ingredients such as coriander, lemongrass, garlic, chili, the chef will put the pig onto the fire and grill it until the skin turns yellow.
Grilled cuisines in tree trunk – Món nướng trong ống lồ ô
With the ingredients from the jungle, the people of Ba Na in Kon Tum have made so many dishes using tree trunk as their cooking pots. After washing the herbs, river fish, all kind of meat from pork to chicken, you can put everything into the tube. But that’s not the end. Chopping some bitter eggplants, cutting and adding some slices of fish, putting some jungle herbs, asparagus, lemongrass, smashed pepper, you are almost ready. After everything is ready, putting the tube on the fire, and calling it done, all you have to do now is waiting until the food is ready.
This is a typical holiday dish, when everybody in the family gathers around and cooks food. There are also many other dishes that accompany the grill such as rice cooked in the tube, pork, beef, porridge (also cooked in the tube), boiled asparagus with fish, ant-fish salad, salt and sesame, and some dessert like sweet potato, cassava. All of the food will put on banana leaves.
Sturgeon – Cá Tầm
At the plateau of Mang Den, Kon Tum, there are many all-years round cool lakes which are suitable for salmon, sturgeon to grow and lay eggs. Sturgeon is a type of bone-like-muscle fish, which its bones can be chewed easily without hurting you. Everything of the fish is edible. The meat is white, tough, but fat and highly nutritious.
Coming here, watching the locals caught the fish from the lakes you will understand how nature has loved this land. The fish is cleaned, washed, marinated with ingredients from the jungle and the mountain, and cooked in so many different ways. The locals also prefer to put in some asparagus to increase the flavor.
Grilled chicken – Gà nướng
Grilled chicken at Xe Dang, Kon Plong District, Kon Tum, is recognized as one of the best 50 dishes in Vietnam. In order to make the dish, first of all, you need to choose the right chicken. The chicken is small; less than 1kg but the meat is tough and solid. After cleaning and marinating the chicken, following a list of secret ingredients, with one important thing is the jungle honey, you need to put the chicken in the wind to dry. Then you can put the chicken on the fire and wait for a delightful meal. The honey will make chicken skin turns gold, with a extraordinary smell which is just irresistible.
Ant-fish salad – Cá gỏi kiến vàng
Coming to the Sa Thay District, Kon Tum, the home region of the Ra Mam people, you will have a chance to experience a peculiar, mostly terrifying, ant-fish salad. The name makes many want to retreat, but only need to try it once, and it isn’t that bad at all.
The fish may not too big, with a size of three fingers, is cleaned, chopped, and removed the water inside the meat. The ant nest is a raw ant nest, sometime with eggs. Bringing back the nest and grinding it, the chef will add in some salt, green chili, jungle pepper, with some burned rice flour to increase the flavor. When eating, you can also use fig leaves to make a roll, which is more bite-sized, and enjoy the sweet of the fish, the fat of the ant, the spicy of the pepper and chili.
Kon Tum fried crickets – Dế chiên
Visiting Tay Nguyen, you have to try one of the best insect in the region. The fried crickets, bold, fat and fresh, is just irresistible for those who loves to try a new frontier in culinary. The crickets are rather unfamiliar to the people in the deltas and near the coast but to the people in the Highlands, the dish is their common food. There are also many types of crickets: Rice crickets, coal crickets, fire crickets, but the easiest one to make is the rice cricket.
To have a delicious dish of crickets, there are many phases needed to pass. First of all, you need to wash the crickets, and then let them dry. After that, you would want to drop everything into a frying pan. Fried in very hot frying pan, the heads and the legs will be crunchy, while overall, the dish will remain fat like it should be. To increase the flavor, you could add in some spices, chili, lemon leaves, and lemongrass. You have to fry the herbs very quickly so they remained green. When eating, please feel free to make a bowl of fried peanut, a smaller bowl of chili dipping sauce, and add in some slices of cucumber too. The crickets are fat and sweet, combined with the hot of the chili and the fresh of the vegetable are just amazingly delicious.
Back in the old days, there were only a handful of cricket’s dishes, but nowadays, there are so many ways to make them. You can put the cricket in the flour mixture and deep fry it, or stuff with peanut, or make salad with it, or roasted with tamarind. All are equally amazing. You can try the best crickets when visiting Ba Trieu Street, Phan Dinh Phung, or Tran Phu Street in Kon Tum City during the time of August and September.
Cassava – Lá mì
Visiting the village of Dak Me, the home of Brau ethnic group, you will have a rare chance to take a look at their unique culinary culture. One of their best culinary techniques is the usage of cassava in so many traditional dishes.
The cooking process is simple and inexpensive. All you need is the sour cassava leaves, and only the homegrown cassava. Some other region’s cassava can be toxic. Choosing the leaves which close to the top of the branches, cutting the branches, washing the leaves for many times to remove the resin, you will also need a jar to put the leaves in after finishing washing everything. For each layer of cassava, you should add in a layer of salt, and a few slices of chili, too. Pouring a bit of water into the jar, sealing it for a few days, and you will have a jar of Brau’s pickles-like cassava.
From the leaves of cassava, you can make a lot of dishes such as wild chicken with cassava, dried fish with cassava, cassava soup… The best of them all is the wild chicken with cassava. The chicken with cassava is just irresistible: the green of the cassava, combined with the white and sweet chicken, with a bit of red and hot chili. The sour of the cassava combines with the sweet of the chicken match perfectly, which make you want to stop by and try.
When the rains come is also when the meat is rare, the Brau combines the cassava with some deer jerky. The simplest dish is the cassava with dried fish. The dried fish, after a period of time soaking in hot water, is shredded and mixed with the cassava. Putting the mixture on fire and marinating the dish, you are good to go. Do remember to make the sauce to dip the dish.
Grilling hedgehog – Thịt nhím
The Brau does know how to make food from the gifts of nature: boar, ham, hamsters… One of the best is the nutritious hedgehog which has a variety of cooking methods.
Some methods are grilling hedgehog on the fire, chopping the meat and put it into the bamboo tube, soup of hedgehog bones with corn flour. All are unique. The meat is bold, solid; the skin is thick but crunchy, and virtually no fat at all. The Brau likes to meat in the tube and the grilling the most because these dishes retain the original flavor of the meat. The meat is naturally sweet, combined with some “la e” salt (a very hot and bold flavor salt) intense the flavors. Eating slowly, you will recognize the sweet of the meat, the hot of the salt which is perfectly matched with the meat.
Grilled vole – Thịt chuột đồng
Je-Trieng people in Dak Glei District have one very special dish: vole. The vole can be cooked into two dishes: grilled vole or dried vole. When the rice season comes, the vole eats the fine grains, and this is the reason why their meat is fat, and sweet than any other types of rodents. After cleaning the hair, removing the inside, washing and marinating with salt, the chef will use a sharp stick and stick it through and grill it on the fire until it turns yellow. Eaten with the grilled vole are some sour jungle mangos, a bit of jungle pepper, a bit of some herbs.
If there are a lot of voles and they cannot eat them all, the locals tend to make the dried vole for some special occasions. After cleaning, marinating, and promptly grilling through the fire, the chef will cut the vole in half and hang it on the oven. Heated by the oven, the vole will be extremely dry and will be ready in two weeks. In order to eat the dried vole, you have to re-grill the vole quickly, tear the meat into small pieces, and eat with some jungle pepper. The dish doesn’t fresh like the grilled vole but still retains the sweetness inside the meat.
Sour fish – Cá chua
Coming to Kon Tum, you will have a chance to try the cuisine sour fish of the Je-Trieng people.
It is simple to make the sour fish, but it also requires accurately. In order to make the sour fish, you will need cirrhinus, which lives abundantly in the rivers of the Highlands. The chef will remove the fins, the guts of the fish, clean and then dry the fish. When the fish is dried, the next step is to marinate it, and the ingredients are salt, chili, pepper. While waiting for the fish to absorb the spices, you will need to fry the corn. Stuffing everything into the bamboo tube, putting it on the top of the oven for a few days, you will have the sour fish of the Je-Trieng. Because of the mixture was fermented, it will have a bit of sour, combined with sweet and salty from the vegetable and the fish.
Vegetable fern (paco in the Philippines, or Rau dớn in Vietnamese) – Rau dớn
One of the best type of vegetable in Kon Tum, fern is easily cooked. The fern season starts from May, after the first rains of the year. The best place to find the vegetable is to follow the water stream, and you will find a lot of this vegetable. The leaves have a spear-shaped, bitter if is eaten raw but sweet when cooked.
The best way to retain the flavor of the fern is to boil it. After washing the leaves, you will need to put the leaves into the boiling water, and you also have to wait there until the leaves are cooked. The leaves, dipped in shrimp sauce with some garlic and chili, is delicious. The vegetable has a color green, with a distinguish sweet flavor. There are also many other dishes from fern vegetable. The locals tend to fry it with garlic, fry with asparagus, or to steam in bamboo tube. But the best of them all is the fern salad. When eating the salad, you will be able to detect the bitter of the fern combined with others ingredients. In the old days, fern only appeared in the meals of the Highlands people, now; it is everywhere, no matter where you are.
Bitter tiny eggplants – Cà đắng
Eggplants are a bucolic dish of the Kon Tum people. You can find these tiny versions of eggplants, which is no bigger than a finger, alongside the hills, or streams. This type of eggplants is small and has a color green, and it is very bitter.
You can either eat it raw or cook, each has a unique flavor. The best way to keep the flavor intact is to make pickles using eggplants and chili. The grilled eggplants have a unique flavor, and a very unique way of cooking too. You hook a chain of eggplants on a stick and grill the stick on the fire until the eggplants turn brown with a distinguish smell, but still retain its bitterness, and are perfect to eat with sesame or with meat. There are also other ways of cooking the eggplants, such as roasted with shrimps, or with frogs. All are equally delicious. For the first time eating the vegetable, you may find it peculiar, but gradually, you will like it.
Asparagus – Măng le
With the Highlands people, asparagus is very important in their daily lives. After cutting the top of the bamboo shot, the asparagus is dried under the sun. The asparagus is solid in the middle, sweet, and bold in flavor without any bit of bitterness.
After boiling the asparagus, you will cut it into smaller slices, and let them dry. In the meantime, you will want to fry the peanut promptly on the fire, and then combine some sauce, salt, chili and garlic. The dish is served with rice. Addition from the dish that has just described, the asparagus can also cooked with chopped meat to make soup, or just boiled it and dipped everything in fish sauce. The locals also like to make dried asparagus. Cutting the asparagus in length, drying it in oven heat and under the sun, you will have the delicious dried asparagus last for a long time. The best use of the dried, sweet, and soft asparagus is to cook with pork or duck, or to cook with vermicelli.
Traditional rice wine – Rượu cần
In any holidays or fiestas, the people of the Highlands usually have wine-drinking ritual. Wine, according to the locals, is made by the gods from all kind of materials: rice, corn… The some wines are specifically sacrifice to the gods only.
Ba Na wine is one of the best wines in the Highlands, then Ede, XoDang. The wine is a token of friendship, and brotherhood. Everybody drinks together, regardless sex, age, or languages.
There are also many types of wines. Some are made of the new grinded grain. Washed, soaked in water, and yeasted, the wine is covered in a special type of jar called “che.” Using banana leaves to cover the wine for six days and the wine is ready. Rice wine is a special type of wine that is made of fermented rice with yeast. From three to four days, the rice wine is ready to be used. The same method is to make corn wine.
The drinking tube is made of bamboo. The tube is about 3 feet long, with the core is hollow.