Cooking smoked buffalo: a must-try dish of the Thai ethnic group

The culinary talent of the Thai people is rarely in doubt, as evidenced by anyone who has ever enjoyed their spectacular smoked buffalo


There are a lot of dishes in a daily meal of Thai ethnic people. Each dish has its own flavor. Photo:
There are mainy dishes in a daily meal of the Thai ethnic people. Photo:

If anyone has been to the northwest provinces such as Son La, Dien Bien and Lai Chau, it is impossible not to enjoy the smoked buffalo meat, a traditional dish of the Thai people. During the Lunar New Year, guests on New Year’s Day always have a plate of shredded dried buffalo meat placed in the middle of a tray of rice, accompanied by a mountain of sticky rice.

Today, due to improved living conditions, smoked buffalo is not only a typical Thai dish but has also becomes popular among the people of the northwest. In the past, the Black Thai people thought of a way to marinate buffalo and then put it on the stove to preserve it for a long time and use it on important days. Such food was used on rainy and windy days. Gradually, many lowland diners visited and also fell in love with the iconic dish.

How to cook smoked buffalo

Time required: about 14 hours

1. Choose fresh buffalo meat

Choose lean tenderloin or buffalo muscle, with absolutely no tendons or fat. Slice the buffalo meat lengthwise into pieces about 20 cm long and about 5 cm thick, then gradually soften the meat.

Cooking smoked buffalo: a must-try dish of the Thai ethnic group
Photo: traugacbep

2. Marinate the meat with spices

The seasonings to season with must be carefully selected, with an ideal ratio of ginger, chilli, Sichuan pepper and other specialized spices.

Roast the dried chilli until fragrant and then put it in a mortar with the garlic, ginger, lemongrass, Sichuan pepper, salt and crushed sugar, then mix well into a slightly viscous paste.

Cooking smoked buffalo: a must-try dish of the Thai ethnic group
Photo: traugacbep

Add the seasoning mixture to the buffalo meat for about 3 hours for the meat to absorb the spices.

TIPS: The Northwest standard smoked buffalo meat does not use regular pepper, but instead uses Sichuan pepper.

Sichuan pepper will make the dish bitter if you add too much: 1 kilogram of buffalo meat uses up to 3 teaspoons of Sichuan pepper.

3. Put the meat on the stove to dry

Drying is the most important step, deciding the success or failure of the buffalo meat. As such, special attention should be paid to drying.

Here are some tips of ethnic groups in the northwest:

– Put the marinated buffalo strip on a bamboo pole

– Let the buffalo pieces lie down; they should not hang vertically (to avoid drying out)

– A moderate length is about 60-70 centimeters

– Place fresh banana leaves on top to incubate the heat, put some wormwood in the middle

– Burning large pieces of wood to ensure it smolders and creates smoke evenly

– Do not put the meat on the fire, only dry it with charcoal

– Continuously check the heat, flip the buffalo flesh if it feels dry

– The average drying time is from 9 to 12 hours

– The last step: put the dried meat into a bain-marie (for the meat to cook evenly)

Cooking smoked buffalo: a must-try dish of the Thai ethnic group
Drying the buffalo meat. Photo: traugacbep
Tips: To create even smoke, the charcoal should be moderate (there should be no wind). Use wormwood (both stem and leaves) to incubate the charcoal. It will help create a lot of smoke, while adding a slight aroma of wormwood to the dried buffalo, which is the secret to this culinary masterpiece
Use wormwood to create smoke and increase the taste of dried buffalo. Photo: traugacbep
Use wormwood to create smoke and increase the taste of dried buffalo. Photo: traugacbep

How to best enjoy smoked buffalo

Cooking in a bain-marie is the best way to make this dish, as the dried buffalo pieces will be soft and fresh, slightly chewy and sweet. Cooking time is about 8 minutes per 500 grams (half a pound of meat). After cooking, bring it out to cool, then use a heavy object (such as a pestle) to flatten it, tear it apart and enjoy (much like eating dried squid).

Photo: traugacbep
Photo: traugacbep

The smoked buffalo meat cooked in a bain-marie will be sweet; each fiber will soften and the smell of Sichuan pepper will rise up to tickle the taste buds. In terms of seasoning, dipping in ground chili sauce is best.

A traditional dipping sauce using spices from the northwest, including grilled fresh chilli, roasted salt, Sichuan pepper, garlic, ginger, basil, herbs, coriander and lemongrass. The dipping sauce will improve if you squeeze in a little lemon or kumquat.
Photo: traugacbep
Photo: traugacbep
Dried buffalo meat. Photo:
Dried buffalo meat. Photo:
Smoked buffalo meat is a special dish of the minority groups. Photo: lyanh
Smoked buffalo meat is a special dish of minority groups. Photo: lyanh

Smoked buffalo meat is a traditional dish of the Black Thai people, now a specialty and popular throughout the country. Usually eaten on the occasion of the Lunar New Year or festivals, people bring this dish to each other on special occasions.

Making buffalo is not difficult but requires specific spices; it takes time to make, especially paying attention to rotating the meat evenly.

Son La is a province in the northwest mountainous region of Vietnam, famous for its majestic natural scenery, overlapping mountains and humid subtropical climate. When coming to Son La, in addition to watching nature, many tourists are also attracted by the cuisine.

Different from the fast, modern food of the lowland cities, the specialty dishes in Son La are gifts bestowed by nature, under the hands of indigenous people — unique dishes that you can’t find anywhere else. Among the many specialties of Son La, smoked buffalo is the most famous.