A trip to the northwest is not complete without trying local dishes – Thai specialties, to be more specific.
A Thai feast in the mountains of Vietnam
In our trip earlier this month to Dien Bien Phu, we were taken for a wonderful dining experience in the Thai village of Noong Chun, in Nam Thanh District of Dien Bien City.
It would be unfair to a restaurant if we went alone or only as a pair. Vietnamese in general like to share their meals, and every dish provides enough food for a few people – except for the big city office workers who get lunch with everything on one plate. When you go out of town, you need to go in a group of five to six to truly try everything special about a region or an ethnic cuisine.A Thai feast in the mountains of Vietnam
We were lucky to have five of us and one local, who brought his wife, an award-winning high school teacher, along.
Vu Van Phu lives in Dien Bien City with his wife and two sons. But he went to college in Ha Noi so the talk over dinner took off from his college time and experiences in the city.
The stilt house restaurant
He took us to a village, which also offers homestay services, for a special Thai dinner. There were so many diners who booked the main stilt house restaurant, we were told to go further inside the village. Greeting us was a beautiful grapefruit tree in full bloom with thousands of little white flowers exuding a sweet fragrance.
As the true connoisseur he was, Phu brought with him a big jar of strong locally distilled rice liquor that could rival vodka. He placed a big white soup bowl in the middle of the table and started pouring it full.
Tiny ceramic cups the size of a big thumb then are dipped into the bowl to get the liquor.
“Here’s to your trip,” Phu said. “And my wife and I are very happy because you called upon us when you are in town.”
“Please,” his wife added in, “let me shake your hand!” Handshaking after each liquor shot has become an unspoken custom everywhere in the mountains, where one has to pass a drinking test to become brothers-in-arms.
As they say, when you’re in Rome, do as the Romans do. And I for the first time shook hand with my co-worker, with whom I had worked for more than 20 years.
The dinner was packed full with Thai dishes. A feast of colours,ingredients and spices, downed with a shot of strong rice liquor.A Thai feast in the mountains of Vietnam
If you’re used to getting started with crispy shrimp snacks popular in restaurants in Hanoi, Hue or Ho Chi Minh City, here you also have a local Thai equivalent made from taro and tapioca. They came in yellow, white and light purple.
The second dish was also a delicacy – roasted buffalo skins, finely sliced and then mixed with mac khen seeds and other seasonings. It’s chewy, well-seasoned and a great accompaniment to the liquor.
We were in town during the Hoa Ban, or Orchid Tree Festival. It has both benefits and disadvantages. On the positive side, we were able to see some of the best orchids in the region. The orchid show, for one, provides the best orchids grown by members of the local orchid club.