Taste buds tickled by mountain goat

The northern province of Ninh Binh is not only famed for its spectacular scenery but also local delicacies such as cơm cháy (scorched rice), dishes made of free-range chicken and goats raised on karst mountains.

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At the suggestion of a friend, we tried lunch at Thăng Long Restaurant in Chi Phong Village, Truong Yen Commune, in Hoa Lu District while on a recent business trip to the area.

The restaurant is enormous, with seating for around 1,000 customers at any one time. We were there on a week day, just after social distancing measures had been lifted, so there were only a few diners beside us.

Taste buds tickled by mountain goat
The restaurant is spacious and clean. VNS Photos Doan Tung

Our host Nguyen Van Quyet welcomed us with a warm smile and recommended we try a few of the restaurant’s goat meat delicacies.

“We have been open for more than ten years,” Quyet told us. “We only use fresh local goat meat in our dishes, which are enjoyed by both local people and tourists.”

The secret to customers returning again and again is indeed the fresh goat meat, together with spices mixed in a handed-down marinade as well as fresh local aromatic herbs.

Taste buds tickled by mountain goat
Cơm cháy – a significant delicacy of Ninh Binh.

Among the restaurant’s main dishes are dê tái chanh (underdone goat meat seasoned with lime juice, sesame, and herbs), dê nướng tảng (goat meat grilled on charcoal), dê xào lăn (stir-fried goat meat), and dê hầm thuốc bắc (goat meat stewed with medicinal herbs).

We decided on dê tái chanh, dê nướng tảng, dê xào lăn, and stir-fried sweet potato leaves, and also plumped for cơm cháy.

Just 15 minutes later the first of the hot and yummy dishes were laid out on the table in front of us.

Cơm cháy is crispy and dipped in a tasty goat meat sauce. Dê tái chanh boasts slices of soft fresh goat meat, while dê xào lăn is even tastier, with loads of spices.

Taste buds tickled by mountain goat
Grilled goat meat on charcoal.

Dê nướng tảng tickled all of our taste buds, retaining the sweet savour of the meat.

Quyet said the dishes are made using different parts of a goat. For example, dê tái chanh is made of meat taken from the thigh, while dê xào lăn and dê nướng tảng use goat belly, which is fattier.

Mountain goats climb high above and eat wild vegetables, so their meat is not overly fatty but extremely tasty, which is different from goats raised in pens, Quyet explained.

One thing that stood out to all of us was the size of the servings, which were much larger than in other restaurants nearby.

Taste buds tickled by mountain goat
Stirred fried goat meat.

Besides its focus on fresh meat and vegetables, Quyet said, the restaurant also pays significant attention to the way its dishes are prepared.

“All dishes are served piping hot, be it summer or winter.” 

Quyet added: “In addition to goat, Ninh Binh has other delicacies made of mountain snails, shrimp paste, and frogs. We offer just part of my homeland’s diverse culinary art.”

 

Signature specialty

We also had a chance to chat with Chef Dao Van Luong, who has been with Thang Long Restaurant since its very first day.

He told us a lot about cơm cháy, the local delicacy.

“We mix and steam two types of rice in the dish,” he revealed. “It should contain sticky rice from Kim Son District in the province and another type of broken rice.”

The two types of rice are steamed in a metal saucepan, with the sticky rice softening the mixture. Scorched rice at the bottom of the saucepan is then dried under sunlight for two days.

“Natural sunlight adds fragrance to the scorched rice,” Luong explained. “This is why we don’t use drying machines, like other restaurants do.”

The sun-dried scorched rice is then deep-fried in oil.

Taste buds tickled by mountain goat
All dishes are tasty and fresh. The amount is too much for four of us.

Luong told us the rice must be fried to a proper temperature so that it is crispy yet soft at the same time.

The dipping sauce is then made from a broth of goat bones, goat meat, onion, carrots, and cassava starch.

Nguyen Thi Bich Nhan, a guest at the restaurant, loved the cơm cháy prepared by Chef Luong.

“It’s crispy, fatty, and tasty,” she said.

“And the sauce is excellent. I can taste the savour of goat meat in the sauce. It’s tastier than similar dishes I’ve had elsewhere. Whenever I visit Ninh Binh, I simply must have cơm cháy.”

Taste buds tickled by mountain goat
Nhan and her family enjoy their lunch at the restaurant.

Our lunch was reasonably priced for the area. We paid VND150,000 (US$6.4) for dê tái chanh, the same for dê xào lăn, and VND280,000 ($12) for dê nướng tảng. The cơm cháy was DVNĐ150,000 ($6.4) and the stir-fried vegetables VND40,000 ($1.7).

The four of us were all full and left Thăng Long Restaurant more than satisfied. VNS

By Le Huong & Ho Hoang

Thăng Long Restaurant

Chi Phong Village, Trường Yên Commune, Hoa Lư District, Ninh Bình Province

Hours: 9am – 11pm 

Price: VNĐ20,000 – VNĐ420,000 per dish 

Website: nhahangthanglong.ninhbinh.vn

Hotline: 0975.155.458; 083.888.0606