Dan Phuong District: Unique Culinary Specialties in Every Village

Hanoi's countryside is home to renowned century-old dishes that captivate the palates of food enthusiasts.

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Dan Phuong is situated in the sacred land of Xu Doai (one of the four ancient provinces surrounding Thang Long), which is renowned for its talented people, rich history, and cultural traditions.

Each village in the district boasts its own signature cuisine that encapsulates the essence of local cultural charms. These include Phung Town pork skin salad, Hong Ha tofu and rice wine, Lien Ha steamed rice cake, Lien Hong plain pyramid rice dumpling, and Ha Mo kneaded congee.

Unique countryside dishes

Banh te or rice dumplings – a specialty of the Dan Phuong district. Photo: Le Phuong

Originally a fishing village on the Day River, Tho Vuc Village in Dong Thap Commune is known for its unique fish stew technique. This dish is exclusively prepared by male villagers and requires meticulous preparation. The fish is cleaned, removing the guts while leaving the scales intact. The whole fish is then placed in a large pot.

Tho Vuc Village braises the fish with split sugarcane, thinly sliced galangal root, fermented soybean paste, thickened vinegar, wet caramel, pepper, and the right amount of water. To prevent the fish from sticking together and breaking, layers of fish are separated by layers of bamboo wattle and thinly sliced sugarcane.

“To make the fish tasty, we braise it twice. The first time, we usually braise them for about four hours and then let them cool. For the second braising, we take out all the layers of fish and put them back in the pot in reverse order, then boil them for about three hours. This way, the fish is evenly cooked and absorbs the flavors, while the bones become soft and crumbly,” said Vinh Chien, a villager from Tho Vuc.

The braised fish is traditionally served with delicious steamed rice, which is formed into chunks about eight centimeters wide and 15 centimeters long. A fish served with steamed rice must be whole, with its scales and fins intact and its tail an appetizing dark yellow.

Tho Vuc braised fish dish. Photo: Dan Phuong Que Toi

Alongside the “Braised Fish and Molded Steamed Rice” from Tho Vuc Village, banh gio or simple pyramid rice dumplings are another culinary masterpiece from the people of Dan Phuong.

According to Tran Thi Thao, a villager from Thuong Tri Village, Lien Hong Commune, the ingredients for banh gio include sticky rice and ash water, with la dong or Stachyphrynium placentarium leaves and bamboo strings for wrapping. The quality of the cake depends on the ash water, for which each locality has its own secret recipe. In Thuong Tri village, the ash water is made from dried plants such as spiny amaranth, sesame, or soybean. These plants are burned to produce ash, which is then soaked in water with a little lime for about 30 days.

After the ash settles, the clear water is used to soak the sticky rice, which is then wrapped in la dong. Once cooked, banh gio is served cold with fragrant dark brown molasses. It has become an essential dish on the Tet tray of the people of Lien Hong Commune, as well as a favorite dish of every Dan Phuong resident.

Meanwhile, Ha Mo Commune takes pride in its chao se or kneaded congee, which is characterized by a unique and memorable way of eating. Instead of using spoons, especially in Ha Mo Village, diners must use chopsticks to enjoy the congee.

A Dan Phuong’s specialty- the squared banh gio. Photo: Mai Phuong

According to Nguyen Xuan Viet, Ha Mo commune’s cultural officer, the ingredients for chao se are quite simple, usually non-glutinous rice and pork bones. However, the cook must take several meticulous steps. After being thoroughly rinsed, selected non-glutinous rice is soaked in water for about 12 hours until soft, then ground into wet flour. This flour is then placed in a cloth bag to filter out the water, leaving a smooth white dough.

The broth can be made by simmering any pork bone, but the tail is the tastiest, slightly sweet but not greasy. When the broth is ready, the cook takes a small piece of dough in the palm of his hand, kneads it into a string the size of a chopstick tip, and drops it into the pot of boiling broth.

This step is time-consuming and often carried out by two or three people together. In the boiling water, the well-kneaded strings of dough cook quickly without sticking together. From time to time, the cook uses long chopsticks to gently stir the broth, breaking the strips into bite-sized pieces.

In addition to the aforementioned dishes, Dan Phuong offers various delicacies, including rice dumplings from Lien Ha and Dan Phuong communes, Phung Town pig skin salad, Hong Ha tofu, and Song Phuong peanut candy. Many of these dishes have found their way into Hanoi folk songs:

“Chem pork bologna, Ba wine, nem Phung

Anyone who hasn’t enjoyed them yet,

please don’t brag about fancy eating…”

Chao se or kneaded congee dish from Ha Mo Village, Dan Phuong District, Hanoi. Photo: Vietsense Travel

Honoring local cuisine

According to Vinh Chien from Tho Vuc Village, the combination of stewed fish and steamed rice originates from the Ky Phuc Festival in Tho Vuc fishing village.

Every year, the village holds two festival days: one on the 10th day of the third lunar month, and the Ky Phuc Festival or “Rice and Fish Feast” on the 19th and 20th days of the eighth lunar month, praying for an abundant shrimp and fish catch from the river and good harvests.

About 10 days before the festival, Tho Vuc villagers usually go fishing for big carp. With precious agricultural and aquatic products as offerings, their “rice and fish feast” is a unique spiritual beauty that has been preserved for centuries.

As for Lien Hong Commune, banh gio is associated with a very special fair in Thuong Tri village. Every year on the 27th day of the 12th lunar month – the final fair of the year – married women from Thuong Tri return to the village fair to buy chao se and banh gio as gifts for their parents. This is also a traditional dish and gift during Tet (Lunar New Year) that Thuong Tri people give to their distant relatives.

Dan Phuong is an ancient land with a rich historical and cultural heritage. The “Festival of Agricultural Products – Culture – Cuisine – Tourism in Dan Phuong District 2023,” which will be held from November 16 to 19, offers an opportunity to promote the district’s unique cultural and culinary features, and showcase OCOP products, ornamental animals, agriculture, cottage industries, and typical handicraft villages of the district. Particularly for cuisine, it is a chance for Dan Phuong to promote its delicious dishes and cater to locals and visitors.

The dish of nem Phung or pork skin salad from Phung Town, Dan Phuong District. Photo: Mai Phuong