If you’ve made it to Sapa way up in the North West of Vietnam, you’ve no doubt already sampled a vast array of Vietnamese food. You may have even journeyed all the way from the south, stuffing yourself with as many platters of spring rolls, steaming bowls of pho and sticky handfuls of pastries a possible on the way. Now, surrounding by mountains and perched on hills overlooking valleys of verdant green rice, it is time to sample what Sapa has to offer. Sapa is a unique place filled with unique people who are all undoubtedly eating unique food, so give yourself a break from the usual Vietnamese staples and sample some of Sapas best, or ‘most interesting’, local foods.
Sapa Thang Co
We’re throwing you straight in at the deep end, here. Thang Co may look like your standard soup or stew but is actually a traditional dish of the H’Mong tribe of Sapa and contains horse meat. Not just horse meat, of course, but horse organs too, as well as vegetables and a blend of lemongrass, chilli, local cabbage and other mystery spices. It is said the dish is of great significance to the H’Mong people and dates back many years to a time when the people of Sapa could only travel by foot or horse. When the family’s trusty steed became too old or sick to ride their meat would be used in the cooking of the Thang Co, giving the dish an important cultural significance.
After a bowl of Thang Co you might just find you’ve got a taste for horse meat in which case you should try Khang Gai, Sapa’s own specially dried horse meat. Another staple in the diet of the H’Mong tribespeople, Khang Gai is made by covering small strips of meat in salt and spices and hanging them up in a cool, dry place for a period of weeks. Khang Gai is used in many hot noodle and rice dishes and is said to be particularly delicious with tomato.
Bamboo-tube rice is a dish that can be found all over Vietnam but the flavour of the rice and serving style differs depending on which region you visit. In the North Western region of Sapa glutinous rice from the fields around the town is used. The rice is combined with coconut milk and grilled in a bamboo tube and, when cooked, retains an edible layer of bamboo membrane on its outer edge. In Sapa this dish is often served with bamboo tube beef and sesame and prepared by local people on open campfires. A culinary experience not to be missed.
Grilled Chinese Black Mushroom
This might not sound very exciting but I promise it is. Chinese black mushrooms grow wild in the cool forests surrounding Sapa and for this reason are a staple of many Sapa people’s diets and can be found in most restaurant-cooked noodles and stir fry dishes. But the mushrooms are also a big hit on the street food scene and are often grilled on a stick with slices of juicy pork. Sapa mushrooms are known to be highly nutritious and, of course, completely organic. When you have mushrooms and pork you really can’t go wrong.
Cap Nach Pig
Which brings me nicely to our next Sapa speciality, Cap Nach pig, or, Lon Cap Nach to be more precise. The name of this dish roughly translates to ‘under arm’ pig and alludes to the size of the pigs in question which normally weigh under 20kg. These little piggies are raised in semi-wild conditions in the forests surrounding Sapa. When it is time for the pig to become the pork they are often chargrilled and sold whole but Cap Nach pork can also be bought already sliced.
Bo Nuong La Lot
If horse and pork aren’t your thing how about some beef? Another favourite dish amongst Sapa’s locals and tourists is Bo Nuong La lot, which roughly translates to beef in betel leaf. Using the same technique as the famous Vietnamese spring roll which involves rolling various combinations of minced meat, nuts, vegetables and herbs and spices in a crispy shell, Bo Nuong La Lot uses betel leaves instead, giving the dish a firm bite and spicy aftertaste.
Sticky Rice Cake
After all of that meat I’m sure you’re ready for dessert. Glutinous rice is plentiful in Sapa, thanks to the many rice fields surrounding the town, so many desserts use rice as their main ingredient. After soaking the rice for a number of hours it is ground down to a paste using a mortar and pestle, sugar is then added followed by a pretty much anything and everything that will give the cakes an interesting flavor and colour. The mixture can be molded into shapes or left in a tray to be later sliced into squares.
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