[Wanderlust Tips September 2019] According to the native mother tongue of Tay and Nung ethnic minorities in the northern highlands, clausena berries fruits are “sweet berries” and they are also considered a speciality in the region. Their light aroma intertwined with their spicy inside and sweet taste of the “mountain wampee fruits” makes for countless exceptionally delicious delicacies. Throughout the season of the newly ripe fruits, the clausena berries fruit trees sway gently in the autumnal breeze.
FROM THE HOSTS IN THE HIGHLANDS
Situated next to the Chinese border, the cuisine of the Tay and Nung ethnic minorities in the northern highlands also has similar characteristics. Khau Nhuc – Mei Cai Kou Rou meaning steamed pork belly with preserved mustard greens is a fine example. Derived from the Guangdong region, introduced into Vietnam by the Tay and Nung ethnic groups in Lang Son Province, the dish has gradually become a Vietnamese dish cooked locally with signature spices, including the clausena berries seeds.
Khau Nhuc flavoured with clausena berries seeds is not as greasy as the original recipe. People make many holes in the pork belly skin and then fry until the skin turns a crisp golden brown. However, interestingly, the unique sweetness of the fresh berries blended with the meaty aromas of braised pork belly has brought diners a rich flavour of wild nature. The dish is glorious with a sprinkle of milled pepper and best enjoyed with a bowl of white rice.
PERFECTLY INFUSED WITH SEAFOOD
The exotic sweetness of the clausena berries seeds is not only perfect for highland dishes but comes into its own when cooked with seafood, especially delicious fillets of fish.
Grilled grouper served with a sauce made from the unique sweet berries is the most delicate culinary delight. The flesh of fish is tough and firm, so each piece of grouper is carefully marinated in the sweet berries.
The jelly-like flesh of the fresh berries is ground with salt, its seeds and pods are slowly baked until they turn dry and golden and finally they are milled. Afterwards, all of these ingredients are marinated with fish and roasted on an open fire. Food connoisseurs will be mesmerised by the sweet and spicy aromas that these signature fruits exude.
This fish dish is often served with hot rice or noodles, and most importantly, it must be dipped in the sweet and sour sauce made from the clausena berries seeds.
THE BEST SPICE FOR EVERY DISH IN THE DELTA
It can be said that due to their exotic and delicious flavour, clausena berries seeds have won over many diners from, those in the highlands to those living by the sea. However, the fruits need to be combined with the best meat from the delta – grilled pork ribs, to achieve the most perfect levels of deliciousness.
A vital ingredient to make the perfect grilled ribs is lard, due to its excellent osmotic and aromatic properties. To make grilled ribs with milled clausena berries seeds, cooks often opt to take ribs that have both a lot of flesh and a high amount of fat. The ribs are marinated with the seeds and spices overnight and then slowly roasted over charcoal.
The exotic aroma of the peel of the clausena fruits intertwined with the meaty, smoky taste of ribs is best enjoyed with a handful of freshly-cooked sticky rice.
In the culinary world, the clausena berries fruits deserve not only the title of a traditional sweet and spicy product of the northern highlands but also for the fact that they are the perfect spice for every delicious dish in Vietnam. The subtle aroma of the clausena berries fruits in the breeze is a clear signal of autumnal arrival.
The article features exclusive content from Vietnamese Luk Lak Restaurant
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