COASTAL CREATION

Phan Thiet boasts its own special type of hotpot that is known for its beautiful taste and fragrance.

By NGOC LINH on March 18,2018 09:04 AM

COASTAL CREATION

Photos: SEAHORSE RESORT & SPA

THERE IS A SAYING THAT MOST PEOPLE VISITING PHAN THIET IN THE SOUTH-CENTRAL PROVINCE OF BINH THUAN WOULD HAVE HEARD: ‘YOU CAN’T SAY YOU’VE BEEN TO PHAN THIET IF YOU HAVEN’T TRIED LẨU THẢ PHAN THIET’. PHAN THIET HAS BEEN DUBBED THE ‘ KINGDOM OF RESORTS’ IN VIETNAM AND LẨU THẢ, A KIND OF HOTPOT, IS A SPECIALITY OF THE COASTAL CITY. THE DISH IS HIGH ON THE MENU OF EVEN THE MOST LUXURIOUS RESTAURANTS AND HOTELS IN THE AREA.

From local eateries to luxurious restaurants

Local people say Lẩu thả Phan Thiet has been a favourite dish for many decades, beginning as bún thả (dipping fresh noodles), a simple dish popular among ordinary people, especially those in fishing villages.

Fresh fish of different types are always available following a fishing trip, and local women just go into their gardens and pick vegetables and spices to make the delicious hotpot broth. They cut the fish into slices, which go into the hotpot, and put fresh vermicelli, vegetables and the fish slices into a bowl and pour the hot broth over everything.

More than 20 years ago, on 24 October 1995, a total solar eclipse occurred and one of the best vantage points to witness it was Mui Ne in Phan Thiet, which gave it something of a tourism boost. Crowds of people flocked to the coastal city to view the wonderful natural phenomenon, including a host of domestic and international businesspeople and scientists.

THE DISH CAN BE ENJOYED TWO WAYS: WITH OR WITHOUT THE BROTH. 

It was the first time local people had seen so many visitors, with thousands of people breaking the peace and quiet usually found in Mui Ne. In those days, tourist facilities amounted to simple hotels and guesthouses, as local people had little idea about properly catering to tourists.

More people became aware of the beauty of the local area because of the eclipse. Tourist numbers began to rise and businesses began investing in resorts, hotels and restaurants in the years that followed. Hundreds of resorts are now found in Phan Thiet and the coastal city has become a popular resort destination.

World-famous chef Yan Can Cook also visited Mui Ne shortly after the eclipse, staying at the Seahorse Resort & Spa. A new version of the story behind the origin of Lẩu thả then emerged. According to the resort’s sales manager, Mr To Hien Nam, Seahorse Resort & Spa ‘invented’ Lẩu thả when Yan Can Cook and chefs at the resort worked together to improve the local dish of bún thả, turning it into the popular Lẩu thả.

COASTAL CREATION

Lẩu thả includes chopped fried eggs, chopped boiled lean pork, lard, cucumbers, banana flowers, chopped mango, sliced starfruit, fragrant vegetables, and crunchy smoked rice paper.

Each ingredient is placed on banana flowers before being put on a large tray with a green banana leaf on the bottom. It looks like a colourful garden of flowers and has a great fragrance. A plate of white sardines, as the main ingredient, is put in the middle. Diners may use other fish, like tunnies or silversides, but white sardines are favoured.

An earthen pot with boiling broth on a stove emits a pleasant aroma. The broth is made from tomatoes and chopped prawns stir-fried with onions and served with fresh vermicelli and fish sauce; a Vietnamese speciality. Genuine fish sauce from Phan Thiet is made from anchovies and can be prepared as a special sauce for Lẩu thả by mixing it with garlic, dry tamarind, chillies, and crushed peanuts.

The dish can be enjoyed two ways: with or without the broth. Diners are advised to try both to experience the different flavours. If they wish to eat it without the broth, they can put the ingredients in a bowl and pour in some fish sauce. If they want to eat it with the broth, they can put some fresh vermicelli and other ingredients in a bowl, pour some broth over the top, and enjoy every single spoonful. It’s so delicious they’ll be finished before they know it.

A chef at the Seahorse Resort & Spa said that the decorations in Lẩu thả originate from the Eastern philosophy of the five basic elements (metal, wood, water, fire and earth), so the decorations are in five colours: white, green, black, red and yellow, together with the five flavours of spicy, sour, salty, bitter and sweet.

Lẩu thả is not only a local speciality that is healthy and rich in nutrition but also bears the philosophy of Vietnamese cuisine and culture. A simple dish can be elaborately and delicately prepared and subtly enjoyed as a luxurious speciality.

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