ETHNIC DINING

An invitation to enjoy an ethnic minority dinner may present something of a challenge for foreigners or city-dwellers used to safe but bland dining. But once the offer’s been made it’s hard to refuse.

By JESSICA NGUYEN on April 14,2017 07:59 AM

ETHNIC DINING

Curious about the idea of the owner of Qua Tram restaurant, who ‘wishes to turn trám, or canarium, a special northern fruit, into “Vietnamese olives” in cuisine,’ we decided to take up the offer.

Located in the midst of a string of local restaurants in Hanoi’s Old Quarter, Qua Tram is a cosy place in a typical French-built tube house. We chose to sit in the main dining area on the second floor, where large wooden windows allowed us to admire a green space of trees and the busy street below.

My colleague and I had a quick glance over the list of the dishes Romanian Prime Minister Dacian Ciolos tried during his trip to Vietnam last summer, which included braised black canarium and black canarium salad with tuna and vegetable spouts, among others, and then had a more detailed look at the regular menu. Aiming at supporting ethnic minority agriculture, Qua Tram’s menu features exotic specialties such as H’Mong beef, Tien Yen chicken, and Cao Bang waxy gourd.

Our starter came with ‘braised black Vietnamese olives’ and was VND55,000. Dozens of the tiny dark brown fruit were displayed on a banana leaf laid out on a bamboo plate. After the first bite I could feel the deep-fried crispiness of its very thin skin and astringency on the tongue, and then a delicious nutty and meaty taste. Ethnic minorities in the northeast mountainous area of Vietnam are fond of its bitter taste because, traditionally, it’s a reminder of the bitterness of life. The sweeter dishes that invariably follow it symbolise the fact that ‘your heart can still be happy after grief’.

For the main course we opted for Bò H’Mong cuốn trám, or rolled H’Mong beef and ‘Vietnamese black olives’, served with steamed white rice or bread (VND89,000). The beef wasn’t as soft as other types but had a stronger, sweeter taste, making it suitable for cooking together with ethnic minority spices and, of course, black canarium. It’s said that H’Mong cattle, a breed protected by the H’Mong Cao Bang Association, are healthy and raised by H’Mong people in Ha Quang district in Cao Bang province. The land of Ha Quang is over 1,000 metres above sea level, so the cattle are raised in fresh air on a clean diet together with pure drinking water from natural springs and rainwater. As a result, H’Mong beef is absolutely guaranteed to have no antibiotic residues, growth hormones, or pesticides. After we’d finished, my colleague and I agreed that we should come back to Qua Tram to taste the beef again, but cooked differently.

With a cosy space and simple décor, Qua Tram is the only place in town where people can relax and enjoy ethnic specialties from Vietnam mountains, such as H’Mong beef, Tien Yen chicken (Quang Ninh province), Dien Bien dried buffalo, Phu Tho black pig, and various steamed sticky rice dishes, like ‘five-coloured’ sticky rice, black canarium sticky rice, or ant’s egg sticky rice, along with dishes cooked from ‘Vietnamese olives’.

Prices start from VND200,000 per person for lunch. But The Guide recommends you share one portion between two as they are quite large and little spicy. Open from 10am to 2pm and 5pm to 11pm daily.

Qua Tram Restaurant

21 Phung Hung St., Hoan Kiem Dist., Hanoi

Tel: 0942 921 133

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