December 14, 2022
HANOI – Neem leaves salad, or Gỏi sầu đâu in Vietnamese, is among the most famous dishes of the Mekong Delta province of An Giang. It was recognised as one of the top 11 specialties of Việt Nam by the Asia Book of Records in August this year.
“I was interested in the dish’s flavour of the bitterness of neem leaves, the saltiness of dried choke fish, the sourness of mango and the fragrance of herbs. The mix gave me an unforgettable taste,” Chef Phạm Tuấn Hải, who was one of the juries of the Việt Nam Master Chef programme.
Hải said he enjoyed the dish cooked by his aunt Phạm Thị Nguyệt, during his recent working trip to An Giang.
Ingredients of the dish include young neem leaves, pork bacon, shrimp, choke fish, cucumber, fresh mango and fresh aromatic herbs.
He said his aunt cleans the neem leaves and parboils them to reduce their bitterness while boiling bacon and cutting it into threads, peeling shrimp’s cover, grilling dried choke fish and shredding it into pieces, mango and cucumber cut into lines.
All these ingredients mentioned above are mixed well before pouring sauce made of garlic, chilli and sugar and stirring them.
Nguyệt said sauce made from tamarind is more enjoyable. First, put tamarind fruit into a pot, pour 200ml water in, light boil it for five minutes, and filter it to get its juice. The tamarind juice mixes with quality fish sauce, two teaspoons of sugar, minced garlic and chilli.
The sauce has its light sour from tamarind, hot from chilli, sweet and salt from fish sauce and sugar, she said.
Gourmet Trương Hồng Lam from HCM City said he often asked his friends to drive to An Giang to enjoy the dish.
“First, you could feel a bit bitter on your tongue, but when chewing it well, you will feel it sweet in your throat; the more you eat, the more you are interested in it,” Lam said.
“The buttery fat of the meat, savoury taste of shrimp and dried fish, sour of mango mixed with the bitterness of neem leaves have created a strange feeling that is found hard to describe, particularly its rich aroma that no one can compare.”
Neem tree is grown mainly in the country’s southwestern provinces of An Giang and Kiên Giang. The tree often blooms and new leaves from the 11th to the third lunar months, said local elderly Hồ Ngọc Anh.
During that time, the neem tree’s flowers and leaves are available in all An Giang markets, particularly Tri Tôn Market in Châu Đốc District, he said, adding that neem leaves are very useful in preventing and treating ailments such as malaria, fever, stomachache, cardiovascular, diabetes and many others.
Anh said researchers in foreign countries such as India had used neem leaves to make medicines to deal with high cholesterol and triglyceride.
Chef Hải told Việt Nam News that he has cooked and tried hundreds of specialities and dishes from the country’s three regions, but neem leaves salad is quite different. “It makes me have a feeling of craving it so much,” he said.
“I decided to learn a recipe from my aunt to cook the dish at my chain of restaurants in HCM City,” he added. VNS