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Enjoy A Jarai Meal with All Forests’ Spices

Friday, 04/21/2017 09:07
About Da Lat city, tourists are so acquainted with common street food, such as banh-can (a type of pan cakes with eggs) on Tang Bat Ho street, Mrs. Hung’s pork paste on skewers, or Mr. Cao’s Chinese fresh noodles…

But there are excellent unique local dishes that even local people haven’t been aware of, which is Tam Nguyen ethnic or casually called Ayun’s com-lam (like khao-lam of Thai or lemang of Malaysian).

About 14kms away from Da Lat center, not many people want to go that far or be that curious for a specialty of a remote bistro. Not only far away but the ethnic also has its own rules that you have to pre-order at least one day with all information of diners and the owners will inform what time you have to be there for the meal. You neither can negotiate on timing nor being late. If you arrive late without any announcement, they will simply cancel your order and if you stop by without pre-order, you will not have a place to seat.

Only when food lovers sit on the cool floor made from pine trees, listening to tempting voices from the kitchen and breathing the totally fresh scented air, they just feel a total satisfaction of the trip. Their meal includes 3 main courses – com-lam, BBQ chicken, and grilled pork – and side dishes, which are escarole lettuce salad, stir-fried sponge gourd with chicken plucks, and rice congee.

Must-follow-rules of the Mrs. Owner are that “pork first then chicken” and “by hand eating”.

Pork is marinated with grated lemongrass, chopped mint leaves, red chili, and a special leaf of spice, which never been revealed. Pork with a part of lard is smashed together with spices, sautéed then grilled until both sides getting brown. A piece of pork and com-lam should be dipped in a secret green mixture made from sea salt and wild leaves. The first bite should stun any picky diner and after that, they all devour this exotic dish in quiet.

Jarai styled grilled pork.

Secret green dipping.

Com-lam is another main dish of the ethnic. Ayun – the Mr. owner and the cook – goes pick bamboo tubes by himself. Rice and fresh water are stuffed into the bamboo tubes, covered by fresh leaves then placed next to the fire to cook. When they get done, Ayun opens them up, collects cooked rice tubes then grills them again on burning coals. The outer of the rice tubes is crunchy whereas the inner is so tender and that makes a perfect rice dish for the meal.

BBQ chicken and com-lam.

While diners excitingly having grilled pork, the BBQ chicken is cooling down, enough for hands to tear it apart. The outer skin is totally golden and crunchy but the flesh is soft and juicy. Chicken is partially marinated and the green dipping is the final piece to complete the savor of the dish. It all makes sense when the Mrs. Owner asked all diners to use hands and fingers for this ethnic highland-spiritual meal. Chopsticks seem too civilized for this occasion.

The owner Ayun, Jarai minority, has not only brought all secrets of highland spicy leaves to his dishes but also carried the whole ethnical influence to the meal. Even though they sell soft drinks and beer, they still offer all dines free homemade wine. There are wines for men, women, and even for older. Men wines are made from wild leaves and fruits as bitter melon, which is still a bit bitter after one year aged under the ground; women wines are usually from fruits like passion fruits or plums so they taste sweetly fruity and have good effects on skin antioxidant, cardiovascular conditioning, and treating back pain.  Diners can ask for refills as many as they want, more accurately as many as they can take.

Yellow glass is for women and red one is for the older.

In this evergreen city with the temperature mostly ranged within the perfect zone, the most desirable cuisine you could dream of is just sitting there with hot grilled meat and essential wine of the mountains.

Speaking of that, the bistro is well scientifically delicate when serving a well-prepared meal with all elements: protein, starch, and fiber. After greasing all fingers and lips with grilled meat, diners would use chopsticks for stir-fried sponge gourd or a couple of escarole leaves to refresh their appetite. Or if they feel colder after sitting awhile, a sip of hot congee should warm them up.

Stir-fried sponge gourd with chicken plucks.


Ayun has served that completed meals for years, no more no less. Diners from luxury cars or backpackers on bikes are treated the same way. And despite their picky rules, they sometimes have to stop taking orders in peak season because their kitchen only can handle certain amount of diners. Once on a blue day, Ayun and his wife had a friendly chat with us, saying, “Both chicken and pork must be prepared one day ahead so all diners have to call to pre-order. Also it’s best when it’s hot so diners must arrive on time. Otherwise we don’t serve cold food. We’d rather have it ourselves.”

On a busy day.

Honesty, straightforwardness, and typical tastes have been virally branded for Ayun’s ethnic. Diners from all over the country once have to seek that remote odd bistro not only to satisfy their curiosity but also to satisfy their appetite with the exotic yet irresistible flavors of that highland cuisine.

By Thien Thu

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