My Malaysian friend Chiam Jia Xin recently visited Hà Nội. He asked me to travel to the mountainous province of Hà Giang with him and try a local specialty dish.
As a foodie, Chiam said: “I’ve heard that apart from the natural beauty of the landscape, there are still many specialties such as cháo ấu tẩu (rice porridge with pork leg, stir-fried minced pork and ấu tẩu root); thắng cố (horse meat & bones) and particularly thắng dền (floating rice cakes).”
He said he was very excited to be able to try thắng dền.
|Floating sticky rice cake (locally known as bánh thắng dền) is a must-try dish of Hà Giang Province. Photo haiquanonline.com.vn
We headed to Hà Giang by car the next day.
On the way, Chiam told me that he was fascinated with the virgin beauty of the landscapes of Hà Giang, such as fields of buckwheat flowers which were blossoming to welcome us.
“I love the immense light pink of the flowers which are in full bloom, as if this rocky plateau is wearing a new beautiful shirt. It helps me to relax so much,” Chiam said.
I told him that in the past the buckwheat seeds had been used to cook cake and porridge and make wine.
When we arrived in the city centre, Chiam said he wanted to try thắng dền cake immediately.
|A tray of colourful bánh thắng dền is prepared to serve diners. Photo hanoimoi.vn
A tour guide led us to a shop that was filled with the fragrance of molasses mixed with ginger and thắng dền cakes inside and outside.
My mouth was watering, and Chiam’s too.
After we waited a few minutes, a waiter brought us each a bowl of colourful rice cakes floating in hot sweetened ginger water topped with roasted peanuts. We eagerly started to eat.
The small rice balls were soft but filling, we slurped the hot sweet ginger water spoon by spoon and enjoyed its fragrance.
|A seller gets thắng dền cakes to serve customers. Photo haiquanonline.com.vn
“I love this dish for its fragrance from sticky rice, fieriness from ginger mixed with molasses, and buttery richness from roasted peanuts. It is more enjoyable when trying it on a cold day,” said Chiam, adding that he felt rejuvenated, no longer tired from the journey.
Chiam asked the shop owner Trịnh Thị Vinh how to make the cake.
Vinh said to produce the best cakes, she uses special sticky rice called Yên Minh grown right in Hà Giang Province. Different from lowland sticky rice, this rice seed is bigger and firmer.
|The cake is more enjoyable when topped with roasted peanuts and sesame. Photo luhanhvietnam.com.vn
It has a buttery rich taste, soft and very fragrant, that no other sticky rice can compare to, Vinh said.
The rice should be soaked in water for 5-6 hours and ground to a wet powder, then when the dough becomes elastic it is rolled into balls the size of a big toe tip with green bean mixed with sesame and coconut threads, she said. The last step is to boil the balls until they float, then serve them in a bowl with molasses-sweetened ginger water.
They are best when topped with roasted peanuts and eaten hot, she said.
Chiam told me that he would remember the recipe and ask his mother to cook the dish at home in Malaysia.
Source: Vietnam News