'Chao hau': A fresh, delicious taste from Quang Binh province
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Quang Binh is known far and wide for its virgin beaches and natural landscapes, and also a specialty known as Chao hau (oyster congee).
Nguyen Thu Thuy recently visited Quang Binh and was impressed by the freshness and quality of the hau (oysters) she tried there.
“I enjoyed it so much and will never forget the delicious taste at a shop in Quan Hau town where quality hau are available in the brackish rivers running through the area."
Local elder Ninh Thi Huong said the town was well known nationwide for tasty oyster dishes sourced from the Nhat Le River.
Huong said no one knows why the oysters found on the stretch of the river near the town were better than anywhere else.
Legend has it the farmers from surrounding areas used to bring their oysters to soak in the river near Quan Hau town to make them more tasty, but no one knows if that's true or not, she said.
Oysters can be used in a variety of dishes including with dried onions rolled in rice paper, sour soup or simply grilled.
“Among these dishes, Chao hau is the most popular among locals and visitors,” Huong said.
Le Sung has run Hoa Sung eatery which specialises in Chao hau in the town for almost 20 years. He said being a specialty of Quan Hau, the oysters are dense and at their most delicious in spring, particularly during Tet.
Asked about the secret to the dish, he said the oysters should be processed right after they are caught. After removing from their shells, the oysters should be mixed with dried onions, chilli, pepper, salt and fish sauce for half an hour before frying.
“I often use pig bones to make stock to make my chao more tasty and sweet,” Sung said.
Chao hau is best enjoyed with herbs and chopped chilli soaked in shrimp sauce, he said, noting that the dish could be eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner. It is also suitable with a cup of wine.
Teacher Ta Ngoc Anh from HCM City said each time she visits Quang Binh she often goes to Quan Hau town to enjoy a bowl at Sung’s shop and learn how to cook it.
“My friends all agree that the dish is unforgettable,” Anh said.
Very few people know that harvesting oysters in the Nhat Le River is very tricky, said farmer Hoang Quoc Trung who has spent years in the business.
“In the past my parents collected oysters by ping deep in the river and used a bamboo basket to hold them. By doing it this way, they caught many high quality oysters. Nowadays with a machine, my catch isn't as good,” Trung said, adding that many of his neighbours still use the old technique.
During the oyster season in spring, they can earn 1 million VND a day, he said, adding that many of them had become rich.
According to research by Dr Le Thanh Hai, oysters are good for the health. They boost the immune system and with cardiovascular, eye and skin problems, and improve brain function, mood, blood vessels, bones and sex drive.
Molluscs like oysters are rich in nutrients including vitamins C, E and B12, Omega 3, and zinc and other minerals that are good for human health, so we should eat oysters every week, Hai advised.
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