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Second prize - Southern regional semi-final:

Dishes Carry a whole Southwestern Spirit

Monday, 11/14/2016 10:58
“Every time is a difficulty but our team is always persistent since we have been cheered and loved. We want to bring our hometown rustic dishes onto party tables in order to affirm values of humble countryside products.”, unbosomed chef Phan Thi Hong Nhi – lead of Quan Nhi team (Can Tho province).


All three times being at the The Golden Spoon contest, Ms. Nhi’s family have been always sympathized by the jury and audiences because of their honesty, sweetness, and friendly attitude, which are features of southwestern people. This 4th season is the first time Quan Nhi team seized a ticket to be in top 15 and would attend in the final round. The jury can see their enthusiasm and learning curve and judge Ly Huy Sang said they had been progressing everyday.

Lacking of Ms. Nhi’s son, this year team included 3 talented ladies as lead Hong Nhi, Hong Trang (Ms. Nhi’s daughter in law), and Thanh Thuy (Ms. Nhi’s daughter). From amateur chefs with simple family recipes and learning purpose, Nhi Restaurant team has been progressing in every single season, and the result of finding new ingredients and practicing modern techniques is that the family strongly impressed judges in both southern preliminary and semi-final round.


Lady team from Can Tho tried their best to boost countryside’s specialties and got better every single time.

We first attended in The Golden Spoon in 2014 with a “too simple” green papaya salad. In 2015, we grilled Muscovy duck with mint leaves and sliced rice noodles (Banh Canh), which are all dishes running in family. Attending this contest is not a piece of cake. For example, last year we had to start at 4am to carefully carry water hyacinth stems (Eichhornia crassipes) to Van Thanh park. Every time is a difficulty ‘cause we don’t have enough staff at the restaurant to take care of it but our team is always persistent since we have been cheered and loved. We want to bring our hometown rustic dishes onto party tables in order to affirm values of humble countryside products”, unbosomed Ms. Hong Nhi.

In this southern semi-final round, their team has had the most crowded fan club since dozen of Ms. Hong Nhi in biking club biked to Military Zone 7 Gymnasium to support her team.


The Golden Dishes 2016 menu of Nhi restaurant includes Salad of Mo Qua flowers, cu hu khom, and giant fresh water prawn sauce, Wild bitter melon stuffed frof paste, Modern styled Muscovy duck curry, and Banh Duc with jaggery.

Surprising Mo Qua flowers and cu hu khom

Judge Ly Sanh was so exciting seeing Mo Qua flowers after years. Mo Qua (Dischidia major) is a wild vine in southwest area. Its blooming season is around October with clusters of white aromatic flowers, similar to pomelo flowers. People rarely know that this humble wild plant (leaves, flowers, and fruits) can be cooked great food, such as Mo Qua tips soup, boiled young Mo Qua fruits, stir-fried Mo Qua flowers with pork, and assorted hot pot. Be advised by a big brother, Ms. Hong Nhi tried to find Mo Qua around inhabitant area and luckily she had found it in a backyard at Con Son village, Binh Thuy area, Can Tho province.


Salad of Mo Qua flowers, cu hu khom, and giant fresh water prawn sauce.

With this appetizer, the lady team also surprised the jury by Cu Hu Khom. Sounds like Cu Hu Dua (tips of coconut tree) but not many people ever heard of Cu Hu Khom, and it was the first time judge Ly Sang tasted this very special ingredient.

Cu Hu Khom is a pure white core of pineapple bush. Cu Hu Khom is boiled and soaked with vinegar to make a crunchy, sweet, and balmy pickle. In Can Tho province, after a pineapple harvest, farmers can collect this special ingredient to enrich family meals.

Bring The Golden Spoon Dishes into Business

It’s a hard journey for Nhi restaurant’s chefs looking for wild bitter-melon. They wanted to use wild bitter-melon because of its uses, which may be food for blood pressure and diabetes. The real wild bitter-melon vines do not bear enough for people’s needs. Hearing that Can Tho University was raising the amazing fruits, Ms. Nhi directly asked them to buy their product for The Golden Spoon contest even though its price was approximately over 1,000,000 vnd per kilogram. When Can Tho University had known Ms. Nhi purpose, they were willing to give their wild bitter-melon away as a support to home-team and a way to distribute their products.


Wild bitter-melon stuffed frog paste.

Not only making effort to look for new ingredients but Nhi restaurant has also tried to learn new cooking techniques. The modern styled Muscovy duck curry was what they learned from the Internet. “We bagged the whole duck and hung it on a boiling pot, slowly cooking until well-done but still preserving its fresh pinkish color and all the juice”, said chef Nhi. Duck curry was served with healthy fresh brown-rice noodles.


Modern styled Muscovy duck curry.

The dessert is also a feature food of the southwest. Jaggery and water caltrop are not new until they are combined in Banh Duc (steamed rice cake). Ms. Nhi said that people had used borax to make Banh Duc crunchier but she would never did that. They rather make it their own way, by soaking sweet rice in 2 days and night in natural lye (from ash) before steaming the dough. Pandan leaf color beautifies final product. Especially, balmy jaggery was added coconut milk and grinded water caltrop to create a nutty and buttery taste. This dish was familiar but it contained so many new flavors just in a bite.


Banh Duc with jaggery and water caltrop.

Back to their hometown with the happy feeling since they made it to the final round, Ms. Nhi said that she would bring successful dishes in The Golden Spoon to the restaurant’s menu.

After that, she would grow wild bitter-melon at home to have enough ingredients for her diners. She also would grow new plants to enrich her healthy garden and to supply for the restaurant besides moringa, Bac Ha, Chuc leaves, opo, and lotus leaves.

By P.Vi

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