River moss, a Vietnam mountain delicacy

By Nguyen Minh Chuyen   February 19, 2021 | 12:03 pm GMT+7
River moss, a special freshwater version of kelp, is used by Thai and Tay ethnic people in northern Vietnam's mountainous areas as a delicacy.

The ingredient often appears in huge banquets cooked for guests or important events like weddings or house-warming parties.

The moss only thrives in clean water near rocks in flowing streams. In favorable conditions, it can reach three to four meters. Harvest season typically occurs from mid-winter to the beginning of spring (November-February) to avoid flooding.

Moss in Khuoi Tang River, Mau Son Commune, Loc Binh District of northeastern Lang Son Province. Photo courtesy of Nguyen Minh Chuyen.

Moss in Khuoi Tang River, Mau Son Commune, Loc Binh District of Lang Son Province.

Tay people classify edible moss into three types. The most common is called "que", which has a great length and hard green stems, often found in flowing streams. The other, "que nhao", is shorter and thinner with a lime green color and the last, "que tau" grows in stable and rather flat water with a velvety texture.

As simple as it might look, even an experienced moss collector has to pay attention while traversing slippery rocks in cold streams. Normally, one would gather the moss in an upstream direction so it could be effortlessly washed of dirt.

Moss is then rinsed with water again, squeezed and left to dry on a smooth rock surface. The last phase of preparation is to soften the moss by hitting it with a rock or pestle. In Tay ethnic culture, only women collect moss.

Moss resembling a scourer is left on a rock to rid it of moisture. Photo courtesy of Nguyen Minh Chuyen.

Moss resembling a scourer is left on a rock to rid it of moisture.

Dishes vary depending on types of moss. The most popular delicacy is "que chi". Moss combined with herbal spices like lemon grass and lime leaf is wrapped in a banana leaf to be grilled on charcoal. It is eaten with a fish sauce and lime juice dipping.

"Que chi" gives out a strong and unique smell attracting anyone passing by.

Moss can be stir-fried with minced pork and finely chopped lemon grass. The softer types of moss, "que nhao" and "que tau" are suitable as soup ingredients.

In folk medicine, moss is believed to help with blood circulation, detoxification and to lower blood pressure.

However, changed environment conditions, including pollution of water resources, have now made it hard for moss to survive. In some places, moss is now a luxury food item only existing in the memories of the elderly.

Walking along a cold stream in the forest, feeling the water flow and catching the moss floating around or enjoying the fragrant smell and taste of moss dishes are unforgettable experience offered by Mother Nature’s mountain bounties.

Moss grilled in a banana leaf. Photo courtesy of Nguyen Minh Chuyen.

Moss grilled in a banana leaf.

Photos by Nguyen Minh Chuyen

 
 
go to top