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Visitors to Hanoi don’t miss seasonal treats



Hanoi is full of particular dishes from the capital of the North, with special cakes being counted among them.

For Hanoi-based food blogger Cong Vu, the Covid-19 pandemic had changed many things among his habit of eating outside.

He was forced to prepare food by himself at home but vividly miss the street foods, which he can’t cook. He also missed the ambiance of food stores in the Old Quarter. 

“I’m so happy that all of my favorite food stalls have already resumed their business and the rhythm of life has returned to normal now,” he told The Hanoi Times.

Visitors to Hanoi don't miss seasonal treats
Young Hanoi people like to hang out with friends and have dinner outside rather than prepare food by themselves at home as their parents did. Photo courtesy of Cong Vu.  

Indeed, there are hundreds of types of food found everywhere in the capital, in tiny eateries or in the bamboo baskets of street vendors.

Traditional Northern Vietnamese cakes or banh are made seasonally, with ingredients such as green bean, sticky rice, sugar, water chestnuts, lotus seeds, and peanuts. Many are wrapped in dried or fresh banana leaves, encasing a sweet inner surprise. Let’s discover some seasonal cakes of Hanoi for the fall-winter that Hanoians rarely cook at home.

The floating dumpling or Banh troi

Rice flour and sugar fillings are the main ingredients. First, the flour is mixed with water. The amount of water is important, otherwise, the dough becomes too glutinous or too dry. The recipe for Banh troi, or “marble cake”/ “floating cake”, sounds quite simple but it is not so easy to make properly. Delicious food can make the eater feel the freshness of well-done dough and smell the charming fragrance of its filling. “Thus, you should order some to try yourself at home, or better, take the chance to hang out with friends at the food stall in Hanoi’s Old Quarter Area,” Vu suggested.

Then, pieces of the cake are rounded with sugar inside and boiled. The fragrance will indicate when they are ready, and when the marble-pattern creations float to the surface, they are picked and placed on plates and sprinkled with some white roasted sesame before being served.

Visitors to Hanoi don't miss seasonal treats
The wonderful piping hot Banh troi tau served at late artist Pham Bang’s food store. Photo: Cong Vu

Another variation of Banh troi is Banh chay, which is bigger dumplings and stuffed with a sweet green bean puree. Banh troi tau, meanwhile, is made with dumplings of a similar size to those of Banh chay but are stuffed with black sesame puree, and the syrup is flavored with ginger and must be served warm.

Hanoi’s young people opt for another choice in winter to avoid the evening chill: going to a popular Banh troi tau shop in the center of the Old Quarter in Hanoi, at 30 Hang Giay.

None seem to mind sitting cramped on baby-sized plastic stools on a crowded street corner to enjoy these sweet, steamy treats at reasonable prices of around VND30,000 ($1.3) per portion.

Young sticky rice and its delicious sweet variants 

Banh com has a distinct flavor and fragrance made from young rice, called com. Com is made from young glutinous rice, harvested when the rice begins to ripen, and still contains milk and fragrance.

First, the rice is selected, thrashed, sieved, and washed in large washers to eliminate the thin grains that float to the surface. At this stage, it turns yellow from the original green color.

To produce a type of soft com, the rice must be pounded before undergoing the most important stage which is drying in a large iron pan over a wood fire. Pounding and drying techniques are often kept within the household and never passed on to daughters, as once married they are likely to reveal the secrets to their husband’s family.

Visitors to Hanoi don't miss seasonal treats
The Banh com (young sticky rice cake), Xoi com (steamed young sticky rice with lotus seeds), and Che com (young sticky rice paste) are prepared by Ms.Man. Photo courtesy of Tiem Co Man

Expert cooks know how long the pounding and drying should take, the frequency of each pounding, how the heat of the fire should be adjusted, and the techniques of choosing good rice and good firewood. The finished product, which must be soft, sweet, and fragrant, then finds its way to customers, covered with lotus leaves to retain its moisture and to give the com the fragrance of the leaf.

There are few things more delicious than a simple dish of green rice in a lotus leaf with bananas. Com is also used to make other popular desserts such as Banh com (green rice custard) and Che com (sticky rice sweet soup).

The fresh newly made com may be pureed and stuffed with green bean paste and fresh coconut to make Banh com; or cooked with cassava flour to make the Che com. It costs VND10,000 (US$0,5) and the best is found in Banh Com Nguyen Ninh or Nguyen Ninh Sticky Rice Custard at No. 1 Hang Than Street. Meanwhile, the Che com can be found at any sweet food stall in Hanoi’s streets for around VND30,000 ($1.3) per portion.  

Shrimp cake

Banh tom Ho Tay or West Lake’s shrimp cake is one of the first things Vietnamese tourists coming to Hanoi think of trying. The famed dish is named after West Lake, the largest and most beautiful in the capital and the home to the shrimp that form the basis for Banh tom Ho Tay.

Visitors to Hanoi don't miss seasonal treats
 A Hanoi’s beer-killer dish- the West Lake’s shrimp cake. Photo: Cong Vu

However, there is more to West Lake shrimp cake than just shrimp. The spongy dish is made from thinly-sliced potato or sweet potato, rice flour, and a host of other ingredients. After frying, the dish has the bright yellow of sunlight and a perfect accompaniment to its signature sauce made from garlic, vinegar, sugar, chili, fish sauce, salt, pepper, and small pieces of carrot and green papaya.

“I was very impressed with the shrimp cake the first time I tried the dish. It was tasty but a little bit too crunchy and fatty for westerners,” Huge Noland-an Australian expat in Hanoi told The Hanoi Times.

“A tip for the first-time tryer: dip the pie into the sauce before eating. The sweet-and-sour sauce and fresh salad will help balance the taste,” he stated.

These days, as it becomes more popular, the rice flour in the dish is increasingly replaced by wheat flour and the shrimp are brought in from other sources around Hanoi besides the famous West Lake.

Many restaurants around West Lake, near Phu Tay Ho (West Lake Pagoda), now specializing in Banh tom. The price for a portion is around VND60,000 or $2.6 per person.

Hot khuc pie

The main ingredients of Banh khuc are khuc leaf, which is grown on the banks of the Red River, and sticky rice. The boiled leaves are first pounded into a pulp then mixed with sticky rice flour to make a dark green mixture, before being rolled into portions the size of a child’s fist.

Visitors to Hanoi don't miss seasonal treats
The Banh khuc is one among the should-not-to-miss specialties of Hanoi in the fall winter. Photo: Cong Vu

Each piece is then be rolled in boiled, ground green peas and meat, half fat and half lean, which has been soaked in pepper. Finally, Banh khuc is layered into a large steamer, with each layer covered with carefully-soaked sticky rice, until the pot is full. The cakes are then steamed on low heat until a delicious aroma permeates the air.

“Having a hot Banh khuc as a late-night snack is one of the great joys of any Hanoian in a cold chili winter,” Cong Vu stated.

His comment may be wrong that a few loves Banh khuc. The cake’s lovers believed that the fragrance of sticky rice blended with the scent of khuc leaf, green peas and spiced meat leaves an indelible impression to diners.

One of the most famous Banh khuc is Banh Khuc Co Lan, made by Ms. Lan in the Old Quarter’s Cau Go Street. The price is VND25,000 ($1) each.

Source: Hanoitimes



Ban Gioc Waterfall Tourism Festival set for early October



The Ban Gioc Waterfall Tourism Festival is to take place from October 5 to 8 in the northern province of Cao Bang, as part of the locality’s efforts to lure tourists.

The festival will feature a series of captivating activities such as a water procession ceremony to pray for national peace and mild weather, at Truc Lam – Ban Gioc Pagoda, a photo exhibition, and a food fair, among others.

Folk games and artistic performances are expected to dazzle visitors, especially a “then” singing performance by local Tay ethnic minority people. Visitors will also be able to take part in chestnut picking at gardens in Chi Vien and Dam Thuy communes in Trung Khanh district.

Earlier, the northern mountainous province has announced its plan to launch the pilot operation for one year of tours at Ban Gioc – Detian waterfalls on the Vietnam – China border.

The piloted tour is expected to become an eco-friendly cross-border tourism model, helping Cao Bang capitalise on its tourism strengths to develop its socio-economy, while promoting friendship exchanges and mutual understanding of border localities of Vietnam and China./.


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Explore untouched islands in Kiên Giang Province



The Nam Du archipelago in Kiên Giang Province consists of over 20 islands, islets and rocky outcroppings. VNS Photo Văn Châu

If you are too familiar with the famous beaches or islands of Việt Nam, like Mỹ Khê Beach in Đà Nẵng City, Nha Trang Bay and Phú Quốc Island, and are looking for a wholly new place, then try Nam Du and the Hòn Sơn islands in Kiên Giang Province.

Near Phú Quốc Island in the southeastern province, Nam Du and Hòn Sơn islands, with their blue sea and unique and delicious seafood, are attracting more and more tourists to come to admire their beauty. The islands give you the chance to do things freely, enjoy and explore them in your own way without any modern facilities. It is surely the most special experience that you could ever have.

Nam Du is a beautiful archipelago consisting of 21 large and small islands in the Gulf of Thailand, of which Củ Tron is the largest. In the distance are Dầu, Ông, Ngang, and Mấu Islands, forming a charming area. The wild beauty and unexplored tourism services attract tourists to this archipelago.

With beautiful pristine beaches such as Chướng Beach and Đá Đen Beach, with shallow water levels and coconut trees, Nam Du will bring you an extremely comfortable summer trip and freedom with nature.

Currently, there are also a variety of motels, hostels and even homestays. You can also set up camping tents right at the beaches on the island.

Diving is a popular activity among foreign tourists in Nam Du Islands.

Snorkelling in coral reefs is an unforgettable experience in the Nam Du archipelago. VNS Photo Văn Châu

A favourite destination for diving is pristine Hòn Mấu Island. Visitors hire diving suits and fins as well as diving tanks to start training. They learn signs to communicate under water and tips to deal with tough situations.

They then go underwater in their diving suits in a shallow area. Each guest is accompanied by one coach who gives instructions. Finally, guests dive further into the sea. Those without prior experience will dive no deeper than 10 metres.

Due to water pressure, tourists might have symptoms of tinnitus or find it difficult to breathe. But after a few minutes, people get used to it.

In the past few years, the island residents have developed community tourism models, making contributions to socio-economic development for Nam Du Commune.

Visitor Trần Thị Trung from HCM City said, “While diving, you will have a chance to catch sea urchins. They are often eaten raw with a bit of mustard after being caught. The meat has a light yellow hue and a creamy taste.”

Trần Chí Trung, a local guide, shared that one of the favourite experiences of tourists when coming to Nam Du is diving to catch sea urchins. They usually spawn in the third to sixth month of the lunar calendar, and reside in cliffs, so you have to know how to catch them properly, otherwise they will prick with their thorns. Despite their thorny shape, urchins are one of the most nutritious and fattiest seafoods.

Coming to the Nam Du archipelago, visitors will be conquered by the charming scenery and fresh air. VNS Photo Văn Châu

Tourists are swimming in Nam Du seas. – VNS Photo Văn Châu

 Trần Hương Ly, from Bình Dương Province, said: “My friends and I really enjoyed diving to catch urchins when we had the opportunity to travel to Nam Du in early August.”

She shared her impression of the unspoiled and peaceful beauty of the islands. 

“We spent half a day diving to catch urchins and enjoyed preparing many delicious dishes. Joining this experience is also a way to help relax after stressful working days.”

Untouched beauty of Hòn Sơn

Hòn Sơn Island, located between Hòn Tre Island and Nam Du Islands, is one of the newest destinations for a summer retreat, with beautiful white sandy beaches and imposing mountains.

Considered one of the most beautiful islands in Kiên Giang, Hòn Sơn is a new hidden gem for nature-loving tourists. With its pristine beauty and graceful beaches reflecting the vast ocean, Hòn Sơn appears as a sparkling jewel surrounded by coconut groves, with a wild look.

Hòn Sơn is a new destination that tourists should not miss when coming to Kiên Giang. VNS Photo Văn Châu

Hòn Sơn boasts beautiful beaches like Bãi Nhà, Bãi Giếng, Bãi Bấc, and Bãi Bàng, lined with endless coconut palm groves.

Tourists can trek 450m above sea level to the peak of Ma Thiên Lãnh Mountain, which may take at least half a day both ways, made worthwhile by the panoramic view of the island.

With limited infrastructure, islanders are highly sensitive to the environment, employing eco-friendly paper straws at coffee houses.

Surrounded by the deep blue sea, the most distinctive characteristic of Hòn Sơn is the gorgeous beaches and bays. The water quality there is the best and clearest among the many islands of Việt Nam.

Coconut trees with strange shapes are common in Hòn Sơn Islands. VNS Photo Văn Châu

Bãi Nhà lies in the southwest of the island and can be accessed via a steep and grassy path from the main road. This spot is not perfect for swimming but it’s good for hiking along the rugged cliffs that stretch on both sides of the beach.

Bãi Bàng is one of the most beautiful beaches of Hòn Sơn with a crescent shape hemmed in by rock outcroppings. The soft sand beach is small but very good for swimming. The sea here is blue year around. This is an ideal place for tourists who want to immerse themselves in nature.

There is a large cliff facing the sea, with waves hitting the cliff creating majestic scenery.

Bãi Bấc is another great swimming spot where you can spend a whole day. It boasts a long, wide stretch of white sand backed by casuarina trees. Their shade is perfect for indulging in a lazy, peaceful picnic.

To enjoy more sparkling seas and soft sands, arrange a boat trip to some of the small islets around Hòn Sơn. For an all-round memorable ‘sea experience’, get your host to arrange a tour where you catch fish to eat on a raft house for lunch.

In addition to seascapes on the island, there are now a number of long-standing spiritual tourist sites that visitors can combine to visit such as: Bà Cố Chủ Temple, Nam Hải Tomb, Lại Sơn Temple and Hải Sơn Pagoda.

Going to the island, the famous dish that no one can ignore is seafood. Visitors can easily find famous Kiên Giang specialties such as mantis shrimp with garlic, grilled sea urchin, steamed crab with ginger and lemongrass, sea cucumbers, etc. are on offer at restaurants at Bãi Nhà wharf.

Nam Du and Hòn Sơn islands are a paradise for seafood lovers. VNS Photo Văn Châu

Kiên Giang develops island tourism

With the advantage of having many islands with beautiful scenery and the U Minh Thượng Forest, the Mekong Delta province of Kiên Giang welcomed nearly 2.3 million visitors in the first quarter of this year, up 44.7 per cent year-on-year, according to the provincial tourism authority.

In the first quarter of the year, more than 207,000 international tourists visited the province, up ninefold over the same period last year.

Tourism revenue totalled more than VNĐ5.36 trillion (US$229 billion), a year-on-year increase of 263 per cent.

Phú Quốc Island received more than 1.55 million tourists in the first three months, up 43 per cent year-on-year.

The province will put more investment in tourism infrastructure development to improve the quality of tourism products and services, according to Bùi Quốc Thái, director of the provincial Tourism Department.

It has strengthened tourism linkages with other cities and provinces and boosted promotion and marketing activities at home and abroad to attract more domestic and foreign tourists, Thái said.

To date, the province has attracted investments worth VNĐ380 trillion in 328 tourism projects.

Of that figure, 75 projects worth more than VNĐ19.2 trillion are on stream and 84 projects worth VNĐ197.5 trillion are under construction. The remaining 169 projects have been approved and are undergoing investment preparation procedures.

The province’s master plan on tourism development for the 2021-30 period outlines four key areas: Phú Quốc, Hà Tiên Kiên Lương, Rạch Giá Kiên Hải, and U Minh Thượng.

Its target is to receive 8.3 million tourists this year, a year-on-year increase of 9.7 per cent. VNS

How to get to Nam Du, Hòn Sơn

The only way to go to Nam Du and Hòn Sơn islands is by speed boat. So you need to get to the port in Rạch Giá City to catch a boat to the island. Depending on the type of boat, the journey will take 2.5 to 3.5 hours.

Visitors can fly from HCM City or Hà Nội to Rạch Giá Airport.

Travellers prone to getting seasick are advised to take motion-sickness medication beforehand. On the island, you can rent a bicycle or motorbike with a cost of only about VNĐ150,000-200,000 (US$6.4-8.5) per day.

The best time of the year to explore Nam Du and Hòn Sơn islands are during the dry season, between December and June. But the ideal swimming months are March through April, when the seas are calm.

On the islands, there are currently no high-class accommodations, only motels, inns and hotels.

For regular days, you can comfortably book a hostel or homestay. But if you come here during Vietnamese holiday season, you should book in advance. Also, staying in a homestay is the most interesting option.

The price of hotels and motels is only from VNĐ100,000 to VNĐ800,000 (US$4-34) per night.


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Video clip promoting Vietnamese cuisine launched



A video clip entitled “Variations – Thousands of Ingredients, Cooking Millions of Vietnamese Dishes” was released recently to promote Vietnam’s rich culinary culture.

The clip aims to instil a sense of pride in Vietnam’s culinary heritage, which has evolved over thousands of years.

It showcases the diverse specialties found around the country, including iconic “pho” – a flavourful broth of herbs and meat with rice noodles.

The video highlights rolled dishes, salt-roasted crab, and broken rice with grilled pork, among other delectable offerings.

The abundance of ingredients and dishes is a reflection of the cultural diversity of Vietnam’s 54 ethnic groups as well as the varied terrain, climate, and soil in different regions.

Viewers are taken on a journey through the country’s notable cultural landmarks, such as the Temple of Literature in Hanoi – the country’s first university.

They can also immerse themselves in the vibrant atmosphere of a floating market in the Mekong Delta region./.


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