The dish, known as cha cuon la buoi, is very poplar in the country’s northwestern region. Bui Van Thao, a Muong resident of Ban Ngoi village in Tan Lac district says he saw his grandparents making it since he was a child. Previously, the dish was only prepared on festive days, but now it has become a daily family staple.
The most important ingredient for this dish is the pork made from one of three pig species raised by the Muong. They are not kept in pigsties but allowed to roam freely in the forest. The recipe calls for the grapefruit leaves to not be too young or too old and carefully washed before wrapping the pork.
Thao reveals his family’s recipe. First, the pig belly is cut into small pieces. It is then mixed with pepper, minced onion, fish sauce, and glutamate. “It has also to be mixed with mac khen seeds or doi seeds,” Thao says.
Those two kinds of seed are typical and very important spices in Vietnam’s northwestern mountainous regions for their special perfume and spicy taste.
The pork is then wrapped in grapefruit leaves, and then grilled over coal for about 30 minutes. The grapefruit leaves give off a perfumed smell.
Thao explains that local people use grapefruit leaves because they can easily find them in the garden and they are big enough to wrap the pork pieces.
“We love this dish as it is delicious, simple to cook, and can cure diseases. We use those grapefruits leaves to cure fever, and headache,” he says.
At Ngoi Hoa cultural and tourism village in Tan Lac district, tourists are taught how to make cha cuon la buoi in cooking classes.
However, there the recipe is somewhat different from the local traditional way.
The mac khen, or doi seeds is replaced by peanuts, which can be found easily in Hanoi or other cities. The Muong pork is replaced by regular pork available in any market.
Though it is not the same as the traditional version of Muong locals, this dish is very tasty.
Local sticky rice cake
Among various other local specialties, Thao is also proud of a kind of cake made from sticky rice. It is named banh oc nhon (cone-shaped cake).
Twice a week, family evenings are spent on preparation of this cake.
Local people call it banh oc nhon because of its shape, which is similar to that of an ice-cream cone.
Thao explains that his family makes this cake for festive occasions, too, but for daily consumption he makes this cake in a very simple way. He takes sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves and then boils it in water for two to three hours.
On festive days the banana leaf is also stuffed with mashed green beans and pork, in addition to the sticky rice.
Its taste resembles that of banh chung (traditional glutinous rice cakes popular on the Lunar New Year).
“We make the cake in different forms, we can also make it square shaped. But this cake is most known in the region in the shape of a cone snail. My little daughter loves it,” he says, smiling while sitting in his wooden house on stilts and watching his daughter enjoy the local delicacy.