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Home Taste from Star-Berries

Monday, 07/10/2017 10:09
People from the north of Viet Nam are not familiar at all to star-berries but with southwestern locals, seeing fresh or sweetened star-berries means to look at a piece of their hometown image.

Star-berries (or country gooseberry, Malaysian gooseberry – scientific name Phyllanthus acidus) is a tall tree (5 – 6m), suitable in tropical zone and almost ubiquitous in the Mekong Delta area. The leaf is a double leaf, about 4 -5 cm long with a blue on the upper side and gray on the underside. Star-berry tree flowers from December and its fruit get ripen around June to August.


Star-berries recall childhood.

Picking star-berries from the trees is one of the most interesting games of countryside kids. Indeed, that’s a tough game. Kids have to assign specific tasks, such as who smaller yet skillful kids climb up the trees and shakes while others spread a sheet out to catch dropping fruits.

Ripe star-berry fruit is yellowish and just as big as a knuckle. There are 2 types of star-berry fruits: sweet and sour. While sweet ones will be eaten raw, sour fruits are used to make fruit candies, spices, or fruity wine. People also use star-berry young leaves as side vegetables or to roll sour pork, especially in some areas of central Viet Nam.

The most memorable dish from star-berries is star-berry and climbing perch fish sour soup from the southwest. This soup is really similar to traditional one but instead of tamarind or other sour produce, they use star-berries. Boiling water, putting smashed star-berries into the season with salt and sugar to taste. Fish should be rare cooked then the rest ingredients as okras, tomatoes, sawah lettuce (Limnocharis flava), and herbs. The dish would not be completed without pure fish sauce and couples slices of hot chili.


Star-berries in fish sauce makes a great taste.

Diners take a piece of fish and dip in fish sauce, slowly chew, and feel all flavors and texture of wild caught rural fish. Pour sour soup into your rice bowl as a real southwest local, you’ll recognize the unique transparently sour taste of star-berries.

Old people tend to favor star-berry wine. It’s simple and affordable. Washing sour star-berries and draining them out then layer them with white sugar in a big glass jar; keep the jar under sunlight to fasten fermenting process. After 2 weeks, sugar and star-berry juice really blend in and we just collect the liquid.

For children and women, sweetened star-berries are irresistible. However, this snack requires much time and care.

People choose all mature fruits, wash, and lightly smash them between two heavy surfaces so that the sour juice should come out. However, if smashing too hard, the fruits will be damaged and the final product can’t be nice looking. Next, they wash smashed fruits several times in clean water in order to take more sour juice out and the fruits become more sugar-absorbable.


Delicious and irresistible sweeten star-berries.

Traditionally, this is how people make sweeten star-berries: seasoning prepared star-berries with white sugar and a pinch of red syrup for nicer color; heat the whole mixture on low fire; stirring by chopsticks until sugar liquid gets really thick and sticky.

How joyful when we can treat ourselves this sweet in summer! Usually people use a short tiny stick (as a toothpick) to pick a sweetened fruit so hands will not get sticky. Just slowly chewing and taste all flavors, from sugar’ sweetness to star-berry’s sourness, the dish is more delicious even than its look. To make different versions, we can add some slices of smashed fresh ginger, some kumquats, lime juice, fresh or powder chili, or cinnamon into the mixture during heating process.

Star-berries are not available year round so that we can only have fresh fruits within summer. To balance that shortage, star-berries are very easy to be processed into various dishes.


Star-berries can be processed into various dishes.

According to traditional medicine, fruits, leaves, rind, and roots of star-berry all have medical effects. Its fruits carry cooling effect so it’s good for liver, blood, and skin; bathing with boiling star-berry leaves can heal some common dermatological problems; and its rind is able to detoxify, treat ulcer, and antiseptic - especially antiseptic to snake venom.

Writer: Hoang Ngoc/Dan tri

Translator: Thu Pham

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