Ha Long in the northern province of Quang Ninh, together with Hoi An in central and Nha Trang in southern Vietnam, makes up Vietnam's constellation of attractions. Tours intended to these places are usually built on well beaten paths that lead only to famous sites, failing to pay deserving attention to the surrounding areas, where culture, especially culinary, still thrives in many ways without investment and spectators to observe the wonders. So if you're planning on visiting Ha Long Bay, don't just settle for the pre-paid set meals from the tour operators. Quang Ninh has plenty of delicacies with a no lesser wow factor than its famous bay.
Hand-pounded squid cake (‘cha muc’) is undoubtedly the most famous treat of Quang Ninh. Fresh squids caught in Ha Long’s waters are cleaned, hand-pounded and shaped into cookie-like cakes to preserve the intrinsic crunch and chewiness. Fried squid cake is the best protein to pair with sticky rice, steamed rice rolls ‘banh cuon’ or eaten alone with fish sauce.
At VND350,000 - 450,000 ($16 - $20) per kilogram, ‘cha muc’ is the gift to go for any guest here.
Beside squid, ‘sa sung’ is a rare coastal mollusc found mostly on Quan Lan Island of Quang Ninh. Not only a food but also a precious part of Asian medicine, a kilogram of dried 'sa sung' allegedly claims hundreds of dollars.
Be it fried, sauteed, roasted or serving as natural sweetener to the world-renowned pho, ‘sa sung’ never disappoints any eater.
An invertebrate that has long been familiar with the pharmaceutical industry due to its blue blood, the crab is a specialty in Quang Ninh that can be made into various dishes such as deep fried, sauteed, grilled or blood pudding. However, horseshoe crab is a difficult ingredient to handle leading to very few places offering it.
With flesh made into food, the crab’s shell is capable of making souvenirs that is said to repel cold.
A name that turns even local heads due to its strange name. ‘Ca say’ is actually a cross-breed of duck and goose, combining the best of both worlds: less dry flesh than goose’s yet not as overly fatty as duck’s.
The best way to have ‘ca say’ is boiled, approved by the locals, who eat the most.
Mantis shrimp noodle
Mantis shrimp noodle in Quang Ninh is a ‘bun’-based (sour rice noodle) dish with broth contributed by crabs, shrimps and pig bones and eaten with lots of vegetables. A bowl of this noodle keeps eyes on it thanks to the boiled and skinned shrimps topping the bowl.
The tiny version of octopus ‘ruoc lo’ requires the fishermen to use a special instrument and search in ‘lo’ (hole in English).
‘Ruoc lo’ boiled with guava and tamarind leaves, dipped in shrimp paste and paired with herbs makes the perfect snack that immediately raise a beer session to its height. And lucky to those who catch one coming with eggs. It tastes unforgettable.
A popular shellfish that can be turned into more than just food. Its reddish blood completes white spirit.
The liquid from ‘ngan’ is also so nutritious that many tie their shell with strings to keep it from leaking when boiled.