Soc Trang is a delta coastal province, located at the end of Hau River; it is a branch of Mekong Delta. It has borders with East China Sea with 72 kilometers on seaside. Soc Trang covers a total area of 322,330 hectare and has a population of about 1,243,982. There are three different ethnic groups living together include Vietnamese, Chinese and Khmer minority group through centuries; there are about 28.35% of Khmer minority group and 8% of Chinese people. Therefore, Soc Trang is the land that involves many
Arriving to Soc Trang, tourists also have chances to taste unique dishes which contain native flavors such as bun nuoc leo, com dep, banh pia, bun goi va, luon hap bau, bo nuong ngoi (grilled-beef tile)… and to tour along the waterways with fruit-trees garden system, isles, islets like My Phuoc’s indigo forest, Dung Isle…
During my days in Soc Trang, I luckily had an opportunity to do a lot of sightseeing and tasted typical food here. Indeed, apart from famous pagodas’ architecture, Soc Trang also includes particular Vietnamese-Chinese-Khmer’s dishes.
First, my friend took me to a bo nuong ngoi (grilled-beef tile) store. I’ve personally tasted many different dishes made from beef like bo bay mon, bon nhung giam, bo luc lac,… until that time, I was introduced to taste grilled –beef tile. To my mind, it was indeed a strange dish. He took me to store in front, located in My Xuyen district, Soc Trang. The store had a wide yard which covered by trees and a big garden behind. What an ideal place! After ordering, I and my friend drank a little beer with roasted peanuts, waiting for the main dish. About fifteen minutes later, the store’s owner brought out a brazier, putting in the middle of the desk…a tile made by metal, it had the shape of a shovel but it was clean and glossy; along with it was a pork fat bowl, an aromatized beef plate with roasted peanuts on the surface. Beside the tile was a rice paper plate, a bun (soft noodles) plate and a vegetable plate with: fresh star fruits, green banana, fennel, lettuce… All had been gathered and organized beautifully in a plate. And at last there were two bowls of mam nem (salted fish). My friend told me to put the tile on the burning brazier, waiting for the tile gets hot, pour on it a couple of pork fat spoons. The pork fat bowl was put right at the smaller side of the tile to catch the falling pork fat. And then the beef was gradually put on the tile, from time to time we needed to pour the pork fat on, turning the beef upside down until it got fully ripen.
Take a piece of rice paper, put on vegetable, bun (soft noodles) and a hot piece of beef, roll it over and dip in it the mam nem(salted fish). The first piece got into my mouth with a very interesting taste. The sweet taste of beef, the fatty taste of pork fat, roasted peanut, a little acrid of green banana, sour taste of star fruit, the salty, spicy taste of mam nem (salted fish) along with different kinds of vegetable’s tastes…altogether dissolved, creating an unforgettable mixture on my tongue. Even the fastidious man would have to nod his head approving.
Every now and then, we wiped our eyes because some pork fat unintentionally dropped down the brazier, smoke rose into the air. Sometimes, a breath of air gently blew from behind, but we were sitting near the brazier so after a few pieces of beef, we started to perspire. We were eating, wiping our eyes and wiping our sweat at the same time, but still, enjoying our meal fully!
I thanked that friend of mine for introducing me another typical dish of his homeland, he rejected “Not yet! Next time you come here, I will take you to some other places, I’m sure there are many other dishes that are also tasty like this…!”
I was so impatient that I couldn’t wait until the next time, in latter days I always urged him to take me to try other dishes that he promised. This time, he took me to another place. The store located in the outskirt of Soc Trang and had a very interesting kind of processing food. On arrival, my friend acted secretly, he meant not to revealing the dish we were about to taste. He went straight to the owner’s stall to order. After a couple of minutes, she (the store-owner) went out with two gourds which were spiraling up with smoke. I was slightly disappointed because I was expecting some meat or fresh fish. We first drank some beer, and then my friend used his chopsticks to split the gourd, revealing…an eel! At that time, he volubly said: “This is called luon hap bau (steamed eel with gourd).” I took a small piece and tasted, it was…surprisingly delicious! Eel’s meat had a sweet smelling and a sweet taste, and not so fatty; above all, the owner’s skillful style of aromatizing made this dish very special.
The day after, I was again taken to taste another unique dish: lau chao ca khoai (fish gruel pot). This strange funny name reflects directly the uniqueness in processing food of Soc Trang’s native people. Many people who have not tasted this are curious about its name. Pot is Pot, and gruel is gruel, why is it called “gruel pot”? This is it, if you got a chance to visit Soc Trang, come taste this dish and the answer would reveal itself.
It is called “gruel pot” because the cook uses gruel method to apply for the pot, just that simple. Instead of using soup water to cook pot, they use the gruel to make pot.Ca khoai (scientific name “harpadon nehereus”) is a kind of saltwater fish, round stern, long and thin shape and usually made dry. Fry this kind of fish and use together with fish sauce, there is nothing to complain! Unlike other kinds of fishes, ca khoai after made dry gets much smaller, about the shape of the thumb. People use fresh ca khoai as well, to make fish gruel pot for example. Ca khoai’s meat is very fatty when used freshly, but also sweet. It is very soft so we do not have to chew, that why it is compared with gruel.
My friend took me to a street cuisine which had this dish. We were sipping roasted peanuts until the owner brought out an eye-catching, delicious dish.
The hot pot was slightly spoiling on the brazier. The hot pot was already flavored and ripen; we just needed to put vegetable in. Vegetable to use with fish gruel pot is usually not much, there are only cabbage, basella alba and especially small spring onion. Small spring onion was cleanly washed and cut. I had no idea why this dish needs a lot of small spring onion; we can ask for more when it runs out. Nest thing is the sauce; the sauce is a small fish sauce bowl with a lot of fresh chilies. Last but not least is a plate of ca khoai that is freshly and eye-catching made.
When the pot gets boiled, my friend dusted it with pepper, putting fish, vegetable into the pot and waited for a couple of minutes. Ca khoai’s meat is almost dissolved with the gruel, so we just had to ladle it out into bowls, put a little amount of fish sauce and pick up vegetable with chopsticks.
On the day I was about to leave, my friend took me to other cuisines: lau de ham thuoc bac (goat pot with Asian dried herbs), bun goi, bun nuoc leo…and did not forget to give me some rolls of banh pia, com dep (green rice flakes) and even Vung Thom’s chinese sausage – famous Chinese sausage’s brand of his hometown.
Before parting, I was immensely melancholy. I felt a little sorry because there was still so much to see, to experience and so many tasty dishes to try but my time was limited. But I also promised him to come back in recent times to meet him and experience fully the beauty of nature as well as the beauty of people here.