Arguably Kon Tum’s best culinary delight
By Phuc An & Hoang Nguyen
|Herb salad—Kon Tum’s culinary delight – PHOTO: PHUC AN & HOANG NGUYEN|
HCMC – Kon Tum Province in the north of the Central Highlands is bestowed with a long list of mountainous specialties. Among them, herb salad is considered by many to be typical of Kon Tum’s gastronomy.
The main ingredient is of course herbs which can be found only deep inside the forests. To get them, herb collectors have to trek through the forest and guard themselves from possible jungle menaces like various local species of snakes. To make the best of them, herbs must be collected in the early morning. They are bua leaves (garcinia), nganh nganh do (Cratoxylum formosum), mat gau (Vernonia amygdalina Del.), black plum leaves, starberry leaves, ngu gia bi (Acanthopanax aculeatus Seem), gular leaves, guava leaves, dinh lang (Polyscias fruticosa), pepper elder leaves, etc. The abundant herbs turn the herb salad into a signature dish representing Kon Tum people’s unique cuisine.
According to local, springtime is the best period in a year when diners may fully enjoy the flavorful dish. Understandably, during spring there, all kinds of herbs grow strongly.
Making the dish is also as elaborate as collecting the herbs. Aside from pleasant leaves and herbs, pork is a must. Fresh meat from the back or sides of a pig is cut into thin slices after being boiled. Other ingredients are small shrimps which have to be stir-fried and pork skin marinated in sliced galangal.
The dipping sauce is made from glutinous rice water fermented with dried shrimps and minced pork. The sauce is seasoned making use of some spices which include chili paste, pepper, salt and chi thien chilies, the spice only found in the Central Highlands. The mixture is cooked over low heat until its wonderful smell begins to spread.
And now, it’s time to taste the dish. Diners should choose a leave big enough to wrap other herbs, several thin slices of boiled pork, one or two stir-fried shrimps and some pieces of pork skin. Dip the roll into the unique sauce and enjoy.