Not only famous for its natural landscape, Quang Ninh is also a land of diverse and impressive cuisine.
Cha muc (squid cake)
Quang Ninh is known as one of the largest seafood regions in Vietnam and a cuisine that one can’t forget is squid cake.
Ha Long’s cha muc has many unique characteristics compared to cha muc from other places. The reason lies in the most important ingredient to make cha muc, which is big cuttlefish with an average weight from 1.5 to 2kg. If people use other types of squid, they do not achieve the necessary stickiness after pounding squids. The smell and the taste of cha muc made from other types of squid will not be the same either.
After preparing cuttlefish, workers have to dry them so the cha muc will have the stickiness in the pounding stage. Depending on the demand, the squid will be ground quickly then pounded. Workers will mix the squid mass after pounding with necessary ingredients like pork fat, onion, garlic, pepper.
When the pounding stage is finished, the squid mass will be frozen for at least 2 hours. This step ensures that the squid mass will hold together and not fall apart. After this step, it will be divided into small pieces, then shaped into round cakes. The cakes will be fried right after the shaping step until they are golden on the outside.
Cha muc has been recognized as one of the best food in Vietnam by the Vietnam Record Association and is also included in the list of the world’s Top 50 best foods.
Sa Sung (sea worm)
Sa Sung is a rare seafood species, often found in the waters of Quan Lan of Quang Ninh. Sa Sung can be processed into many dishes with different flavors, and also has the use of curing a number of diseases and nourishing the body.
Sa Sung lives on the seashore where the tide goes up and down every day. When it ebbs, people have to look for Sa Sung really quickly, often by digging the sand.
Sa sung can be fried with fresh garlic to create a tasty and buttery dish. This fried food is also regarded as Moi Xao, a distinctive and popular food of Ha Long.
Another way to serve Sa Sung is to dry them before roasting. When the dish is done, it has a tempting yellow color and great flavor of sea salt. Sa sung can be served with chili sauce. Not everyone has the chance to taste this special food, but anyone who has agrees that the combination of fried Sa Sung, fresh lettuces and beer is something beyond their imagination.
Sa sung is a very pricey product. Th price for 1kg of dried sa sung is from VND4 to VND4.5 million (over $200).
Gat gu cake
The name of the cake in Vietnamese means satisfaction. The cake is shaped into a long roll and made from rice powder, and served with fish sauce.
Gat gu cake is a specialty of Tien Yen District, Quang Ninh Province.
To create it you have to soak the rice with water overnight and grind it into liquid. Then mix the liquid with cooked rice to have the sticky and soft cake. Next you pour the liquid onto a mold and cover with a lid. After that you use a bamboo stick to roll the cake into long shapes.
A secret to the perfection of this dish is a mixture made from fish sauce steamed with chicken fat, onion and chili with a cheesy, delicious smell.
Nowadays, people in Tien Yen district still enjoy the cake at major events like weddings or guests’ visits and they usually add mincemeat or steamed meat into the sauce.
Those who have a chance to visit Quang Ninh should pass by Tien Yen to savor the unique “gat gu” cake.
Because it is made from popular ingredients, gat gu cake is quite cheap, only from VND50,000 (over $2) per kilo.
Ruoc lo (baby octopus)
Octopus Dollfusi (baby octopus) is a species of octopus family but they are only as small as the big toe of the child.
There are many ways to cook baby octopus and boiled ones are the most traditional dish. The chef always chooses live baby octopus for cooking and then they use salt and water to clean those baby octopus. Baby octopus can be boiled with guava leaves, sorrel leaves and dotted with shrimp sauce, served with lentils nails, leaves apricots and unripe banana. The dish is great to enjoy with beer or wine.
The time for baby octopus is from July to October according to lunar calendar.
The price for baby octupus is from VND300,000 to VND400,000 ($13-$18) per kilo.
Tien Yen hill chicken
This is a famous specialty in Tien Yen district of Quang Ninh province.
The hill chickens got their name from the fact that local people always raise the chickens without any cages. As a result, every day the chickens are free to roam and wander on the slopes of the hills. At night, the chickens come back and sleep on the tree’s branches. No one quite knows how they can do that, but that must be one of the fundamental reasons why the meat of the Tien Yen hill chickens is unconventionally delicious, firm rather than tough, buttery rather than greasy.
Tien Yen’s hill chickens can be used to cook many dishes but the most remarkable one is the simplest dish: boiled chicken. Gazing at a plate of boiled hill chicken, you can hardly believe your eyes. Even though the chicken is boiled in a normal way, its skin has an incredibly tempting yellow color as if there were saffron and oil on it. The skin is also thick so it seems to be greasy. However, after just one bite, you will soon experience the firmness and sweetness of the chicken.
Tien Yen hill chicken is priced VND200,000 – VND300,000 per kilo.
Bun be be (seafood noodle)
This is a popular dish in Quang Ninh.
A bowl of seafood noodles has many kinds of seafood such as fried fish, shrimp, squid, crab meat, parsley, and combines harmoniously with the sweetness of bone’s broth.
The price of a bowl of seafood noodle is about VND40,000 ($2).
Dishes processed from Ngan (clam)
“Ngan” is a class of marine bivalve mollusks which live in saltwater and freshwater habitats throughout the country. However, the large edible mussels are only found at the Bach Dang gateway area adjacent to Quang Ninh province and Haiphong city. The most popular way to cook them is to grill or boil and served with chilli sauce, pepper, salt, fresh lemon and herbs. Ngan porridge is also enjoyed with onion, herbs, pepper and dried fried onions. Alternatively, ngan can be fried with noodles and borecole to make a very tasty dish.
Ngan is quite expensive, priced about VND400,000 ($20) per kilo.
Compiled by Thu Cung
Exotic dining in the middle of nowhere
by Nguyễn Mỹ Hà
Usually, when you think of Hạ Long City, you think of the beach, the sea and seafood. But this time, when we went up the highest mountains, which belong to Kỳ Thượng Commune, merged with the city only a few years ago, it was a wide array of mountainous food left us stunned.
The trip alone was nearly four hours, covering only 50 kilometres of winding uphill and then going down the mountains took two. This mountainous district balances the bustling, thriving, modern city of Hạ Long.
After our work was done, we were about to return to Trới Town, a mid-size community of 12,000 people spreading over 12 square kilometres, known for its buffalo meat or find a homestay along the way.
“There nothing around here,” our guide said. “The closest town is two hour drive away. You’d better stay for lunch.”
Kỳ Thượng is everything Hạ Long City is not. Home to 800 Dao ethnics living scattered in the district. They plant rice and vegetables for home consumption only.
There’s not even a local market. If a household produces more than they can consume, someone picks up the produce on a motorbike and delivers it around the district to order by group messages on mobile phones.
“Hey, I’ve got new taro harvested; I’ll bring them to your restaurant,” Bàn Kiên, manager of the Sa Mộc Restaurant, tells us how he got the food supply. Himself a carpenter, Kiên and his team built a dining hall of pine wood accordingly to a local architect’s design. The shorter wood was used to make beds, and he created beautiful dining round tables with the smaller log ends. Nothing was wasted. The dining hall has a high ceiling, with lighting coming from creative bamboo chandeliers.
Surrounding us was the wonderful fragrant smell of the wood. The restaurant can sit up to 50 people at a time, and walking around the hall, I had the image of a small wedding, which people who dined with me laughed off. “No one around here would come here to have their wedding. They’d have it at home,” they said.
The food came in a whole tray for six with extraordinary local delicacies: shrimps (VNĐ200,000) and small fish (VNĐ190,000) from the crystal clear surrounding springs. Fresh vegetables locally-grown, taro root soup (VNĐ160,000), a boiled free-range chicken (VNĐ580,000), and, above all, a dish full of stir-fried bee larvae (VNĐ400,000) are available if you are a fan of exotic food from the forest.
The crispy fish is wrapped in fresh lolot leaves and then dipped into soya sauce. When cooked, the shrimp goes deep red, making it look like a lobster. These shrimps are not easy to catch, and you can only get a handful over an hour or more. The stories of how food is harvested, or how it rains so much in the valley, made the food even more delicious and a source of nutrition and inspiration.
Every meal here is accompanied by home-brewed alcohol. Be it from maize or rice, the alcohol is potent at 40 degrees. Local community officers need to survive a homemade party to break the ice with local people, who call them up and invite them home for dinner. If you can gain the trust of local people, they, in turn, offer help and ring you up to brief you on the latest things happening in the community.
“Come back when the bamboo shoots spring up from the ground!” our guide said. “There are numerous types of bamboo, and the shoots are available for almost half a year. There are bitter shoots, natural sweet shoots, and pickled shoots. The Lunar New Year is just around the corner, and from all corners of the forest, people have been sending dried bamboo shoots to the markets in big cities, which are a must-have dish in every family for the New Year.”
The long and winding road to Kỳ Thượng also goes through a primitive bamboo forest and a national park that embraces five communes and is said to preserve a highly diverse pool of wild and untouched flora and fauna.
For the local community officers, winning both local approval and keeping your health safe from the devastatingly strong local alcohol is a fine balancing act you need to manage.
If you are trusted by your supervisor but fail the drinking test at communal home parties, you cannot work in the community. Winning people’s approval is a prerequisite test any officer needs to pass if you want to continue working with the locals.
Sa Mộc Restaurant is a wonderful find, and a fine place to try exotic fare from the local forest. VNS
Sa Mộc Restaurant
Khe Phương Village, Kỳ Thượng Commune, Hạ Long City
Tel: 0969 828 086, 0988 290 981
Comment: exotic local food in a spacious pine wood lounge
Pan-fried sea bass
Sea bass with chef Executive Chef Bernado Cabrera at Azerai Cần Thơ restaurant
Green pea puree
– Frozen green peas: 100g
– Butter: 120g
– Shallots: 30gr
– Garlic: 50gr
– Mint: 10gr
– Pepper: 5gr
– Salt: 5gr
– Mayonaise: 400gr
– Dill pickles: 330gr
– Dill: 15gr
– Lemon: 80gr
– Sugar: 15gr
– Black pepper: 2gr
– Shallots: 80gr
– Garlic: 2gr
– Sea bass: 220gr
– Potato: 90gr
Pea puree: On a medium heat pan, add butter, garlic and shallots. Cook until soft add the green peas frozen and cook for about 5-7 minutes. Season, add water and bring to a boil, then blend, adding mint at the end. Don’t blend for too long or the colour change.
Tartar sauce: Finely chop all the ingredients and mix with mayonnaise and a bit of juice from the dill pickles.
Potatoes: Cut the potatoes into 2x2cm cubes, place in a pot with 2 litres of water and 1 tsp salt, and bring to a boil. After 4 minutes, check with a toothpick; if it goes through easily, take the spuds out of the water and place them on a paper towel to dry and put aside.
Once the potato is cool, deep-fry at 170 degrees Celsius. For thin-cut fries, thin-slice the potatoes and cut them into strips of about 5mm. Place in water with lime and wait until starch goes out, which might take about 15 minutes; fry in oil at 160 degrees Celsius, avoiding high heat to not burn the thin-cut fries.
Sea bass: On a non-stick pan, place 1 tsp vegetable oil and turn on medium heat; season the fish with salt and pepper and start cooking the skin side; when the side of the fish starts changing to a whitish colour, flip and continue cooking. Place it in the oven pre-heated at 190 degrees Celsius for 6-7 minutes.
Caramelized lemon: On a cold non-stick pan, place halved seeded yellow lemons, turn on to medium heat, and let the lemon start caramelizing. This will take about 7-10 minutes, depending on the heat.
Plating: Spread pea puree on a plate, place the fried potatoes on the left side of the dish and the fried sea bass on the right Then place a tablespoon of tartar sauce in the middle and top with thick-cut fries and decorate with microgreens.
Quảng Ninh prioritises HR in tourism
Several popular sightseeing spots in the northern coastal province of Quảng Ninh, including the UNESCO World Heritage site of Hạ Long Bay, have seen a surge in tourist numbers since the country lifted most pandemic restrictions a few months ago. However, the strong recovery has created a labour shortage throughout the tourist industry.
Currently, to ensure service quality, enterprises operating in hospitality and tourism are paying attention to attracting and improving their labour force’s quality.
A regular meeting of on-site tour guides is held every week in Bình Liêu — a multi-ethnic district that has become a new hotspot for tourists in recent years thanks to its cool climate and the stunning mountainous landscape, especially in the season of reeds flowers and ripe rice (September-October).
The meetings offer the tour guides, who all attended a training course hosted in the summer by the Quảng Ninh tourism authority, chances to discuss any issues and exchange their practical experiences, thus providing the best service for tourists.
Lô Thị Chung, an on-site tour guide, said: “The weekly meetings are beneficial because we can exchange necessary information related to our work. We also can learn from each other, thus improving our professional skills to serve our guests better.”
Earlier, to welcome tourists during the high season in autumn and winter, the district cooperated with reputable tourist agencies such as Hanoi Tourism to organise training courses for the district’s workforce, including tour guides and staff working in hotels and restaurants.
The courses have equipped attendees with up-to-date tourism information and knowledge on responsible tourism. The participants also have honed their skills in guiding and hospitality, communication skills, and how to promote a destination.
In Móng Cái City, with an increasing number of visitors, especially on weekends, business establishments offering tourist services have to speed up their recruitment and provide short-term training for newly recruited staff to raise their quality.
According to the head of Móng Cái City’s Culture and Information Unit, Phạm Thị Oanh, the city plans to organise vocational programmes for rural workers, including in cooking, room and table services, and bartending.
“We already hosted training courses on food and beverage service, accommodation, transportation, and entertainment services,” she said.
Alongside offering advanced courses for on-site tour guides, the city will soon introduce “electronic guides” using QR codes.
To ensure workforce quality, the Quảng Ninh tourism authority has actively attracted workers through local job fairs. It also helps connect tourist enterprises with vocational schools to recruit graduates.
Under the Master Plan for Quảng Ninh’s Human Resource Development for 2010-2020, the province prioritises developing human resources in critical economic sectors, including tourism.
Head of the Hạ Long City’s Culture and Information Unit, Nguyễn Mạnh Tuấn, said that the city had actively supported tourist enterprises to recruit workers by linking the enterprises and vocational schools.
Alongside encouraging tourism students to have internships in business establishments offering tourist services, the city has also designed advanced training programmes for people working in the sector.
Training locals to be tour guides
Aiming to develop the potential of community tourism in the new tourist spot of Bình Liêu, the district has the ambition to train local people to be tour guides.
To reach the goal, the district has cooperated with the provincial tourism authority to organise several training programmes targeting local people. Alongside equipping them with the necessary knowledge of tourism and hospitality, the programmes also introduce them to how to preserve their ethnic and cultural identity while developing tourism.
When ethnic Dao young man Lý Văn Vinh became the manager of his homestay A Dào in Đồng Văn Commune, he could only prepare a few traditional dishes and make the table. However, his basic skills were not enough to satisfy the guests when his homestay welcomed more tourists.
To meet their demands, he attended a training class on hospitality service co-organised by the Quảng Ninh Department of Tourism and the Bình Liêu District’s Culture and Information Unit. In addition, he has also accumulated his hospitality knowledge through the internet and from exchanging experiences with other homestay owners in Hạ Long and Sa Pa.
“I have also paid attention to every comment of my guests to improve our service quality. It’s great that now we have several loyal guests who return regularly to stay,” he said.
There are 400 people, excluding seasonal labourers, working in hotels, homestays, and restaurants in Bình Liêu. However, like Vinh, most haven’t been trained professionally.
In recent years, the district authority has coordinated with the provincial Department of Tourism and the Hạ Long University to open numerous training courses for people in their villages.
“Our purpose is for everyone to have the opportunity to access knowledge and skills in tourism,” said the head of the Bình Liêu District’s Culture and Information Unit, Mạc Ngọc Điệp.
The most recent course on tour guide skills was held in October, gathering 35 local people. The participants were knowledgeable about agricultural and rural tourism and its role in green growth and sustainable development. Knowledge of local sightseeing spots, skills in designing tour programmes, tour presentations, and handling occurrences were all part of the course.
The course attendees also were shown how to create drinks with local agricultural products.
Thanks to the course, Phùn Thị Hậu, who runs Xuân Quý Restaurant in Bình Liêu Town, said that she could now create the drink from trám đen (black pili nut) that has received applause from many guests. The drink has promise as a unique beverage to refresh tourists to the region. — VNS
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