To bee or not to bee? Ca Mau has a saucy answer

By Di Vy   July 1, 2018 | 06:52 pm PT
In Vietnam's southernmost province, forest bees and crabs get some unusual treatment from the locals.

Ca Mau pulls a couple of culinary rabbits out of the hat with two sauces unlikely to be found anywhere else.

In November, when the cajuput flowers bloom, forest bees start nesting in the U Minh Ha forest. The bees mainly suck the nectar from cajuput flowers, so this honey has a pure texture and a bright yellow color. It is not uncommon that people cut the hives when they harvest the honey, but in Ca Mau they go further.

When they cut the beehives, many small bees still in the hive. In the past, locals stir-fried these or cooked them in rice porridge, but now, they use the insects to make a sauce that could blow you away.

[People harvest bee honey with bare hands. Video by @ummatongrung]

In order to make the bee sauce, the cook needs to be experienced enough to ensure the baby bees are not crushed or drained. The plump bees are separated from the hivers, marinated in salt, and placed in jars to dry in the sun. Once the bees fully absorb the salt, some rice powder is added. The jars continue to be fully covered and sun-dried until the bees turn yellow and become edible.

Bee sauce is wrapped in loofah leaves and grilled on charcoal, giving it a unique taste. Photo: Phuc Hung.

Bee sauce is wrapped in loofah leaves and grilled on charcoal, giving it a unique taste. Photo by Phuc Hung

Locals have the bee sauce with rice.  In some restaurants, people use the bee sauce as a dipping mix for bacon rolls with vegetables like baby banana slices, cucumber, ginger and chilli. They also grill bee sauce wrapped in loofah leaves on charcoal, adding more exotic flavors to an exotic dish.

“At first I was a bit afraid to try the sauce, but it actually tastes very good, greasy and aromatic. It is great when the sauce blends with the sour taste of ambarella leaves and the tartness of green banana,, said Cong Tuan from Ho Chi Minh City, after tasting the sauce in the U Minh Ha forest. 

Sesarmid crab (Sesarma mederi)

These crabs are considered the most exotic and well-known dish in Ca Mau. Their shape and size resemble those of common river crabs, but they look fiercer with big claws. They live in brackish water in the mangroves of southern Vietnam. They are also found in the neighboring provinces of Bac Lieu, An Giang, Kien Giang, but the crabs in Rach Goc, Ca Mau, are said to be richer and carry a more appetizing flavor.The crabs are caught at night from the local mangroves.

Fried crabs with tamarind sauce is easy to find in Ca Mau. Photo: Diep Linh.

Fried crabs with tamarind sauce are easy to find in Ca Mau. Photo by Diep Linh

In July, the crab season, all residents make salted crabs that can be eaten all year round. Besides steamed crabs and crabs fried in tamarind sauce, the crab sauce made here stands out. The admittedly smelly sauce is made with crabs soaked and kept in closed jars.

A simpler dish is crab boil with lemongrass. This dish is complemented with dipping sauce composed of ground lemongrass, fermented rice powder and other spices. You can crack the crab claws, and savor the soft flesh blended with the sweet-sour dipping sauce. Those who have enjoyed it say the taste is unforgettable.

 [Video by Phuc Hung]

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