Come summer, and we look for food and drinks that are not heavy, and have a cooling effect – different kinds of salads, lemonade made with kudzu powder (bot san day) and so on.
Salted Jellyfish – a famous dish in Hanoi’s Old Quarter
One food that has emerged as a gourmet favourite for summer is the jellyfish, which is appreciated not only for its taste, but also for its medicinal properties. Herbalists say jellyfish is good medicine for hypertension.
This seafood lends itself to many dishes, including nom sua (jellyfish salad) and sua muoi (salted sua) and many others. In fact, on hot summer days, sua should be a must in every household menu.
My friend, Vi Hong Nhan, a native of Tinh Gia District in the coastal province of Thanh Hoa, is prone to get wistful during summer about the days she and her friends rushed to the immense sandy beaches.
“Despite the heat, under the sunlight, we could enjoy a mass carpet of very beautiful and colourful jellyfish pushed to the shore by waves. They looked like the moon during a mid-lunar month.
“I liked the jellyfish a lot, and would often select several big ones to bring home for my mother to make nom sua,” Nhan said.
Nhan’s mother, Nguyen Thi Toan, said choosing fresh sua was very important to ensure a tasty dish. “The jellyfish should have been pushed fresh to the seashore and they have to be cleaned very carefully because their tentacles have a lot of sand in them.”
To make sua more tasty and crispy, Toan said she would wrap it with tender guava leaves for 30 minutes and re-clean it with strong tea before mixing it with pieces of cucumber, young fresh mango, banana slices and some homemade shrimp paste.
This salad is often had with rau mui (cilantro), rau ram (fragrant knotweed), marjoram, young cassava and dinh lang (polyscias fruticosa) leaves, said Toan, adding that her grandparents always asked her to have rau ma (centella) while enjoying jellyfish salad.
A relative in Thai Binh Province, Vu Van Tam, recently sent us several kilos of salted sua, coloured dark red.
I cleaned the sua with cool, boiled water and then cut it into pieces. My husband, a native of Nghe An Province, enjoyed it, saying the most tasty and crispy part of sua was its tentacles.
I immediately remembered Toan saying that salted sua should be had with a salad of rau mui, rau ram, marjoram, young cassava and dinh lang leaves and fried groundnuts.
The dish gets even more tasty when it is dipped in Cat Hai fish sauce that comes from Hai Phong City or fish sauce from Phu Quoc Island in Kien Giang Province. A bit of lemon juice, crushed garlic and red chilli should be added to the fish sauce.
My Thai Binh relative said there were many varieties of jellyfish, including sua sen, which locals choose as good food. The sua sen season lasts from the fourth to the eighth lunar month every year.
After catching this jellyfish, fishermen rub it repeatedly on the spot to remove the slime. Then it is cut into pieces and put into a large glazed terracotta jar that has guava leaves, alum and salt. The jellyfish is kept in the jar till it shrinks.
Tam said his family earned between VND80-100 million from last year’s sua season by exporting it to mainland China and Taiwan, where it is a specialty food that commands a high price.
“Sipping salted sua with locally made wine, known as ruou cuoc lui, is so good that no man can refuse,” said Tam, adding that he and his fellow fishermen often celebrate a bumper sua catch with a party.
Apart from being good food in summer, sua sen is very good medicine for patients with high triglyceride, constipation, pneumonia and many other ailments, according to herbalist Ho Van Sinh of the Nghe An Centre of Traditional Medicine
“It is also very effective for treating children with prickly heat and other skin disorders. Boil sua and salt, and wash the skin with the water,” he said.
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