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A traditional soup fit for a king

Bat Trang on the outskirts of Hanoi is famous for ceramic products, but also has some unique traditional cuisine, including bamboo shoot and squid soup.

When peach flowers begin to bloom during the spring season, it's also time for the people of Bat Trang to gather and prepare Tet (Lunar New Year) food. Traditionally in the village, on important days such as a death anniversary or Tet, bamboo shoot and squid soup is a must-have on the tray of offerings to ancestors.

Unlike other Vietnamese soups, often eaten with rice or noodles, bamboo shoot and squid soup is considered a separate dish.

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The stir-fried squid must be dry and a beautiful yellow, but not too crunchy or burned. VNS Photo Minh Phuong

Pham Thi Hoa, a celebrated cook of Bat Trang, told Việt Nam News: “During the feudal period, squid and bamboo shoot soup was one of 18 dishes for the king. Squid is from the sea, and bamboo shoots are from the forest. Those two things are a combination of products from the mountain and the sea.

"Savouring this soup, people seem to enjoy all the natural products. In the past, the elders used to say that the dish was a harmony like the love story of Âu Cơ Mother.”

Bat Trang cuisine has become Pham Thi Dieu Hoai’s passion, after learning to cook with her mother from a very young age.

She said the dishes show the character of Bat Trang people, especially in the meticulous and elaborate cooking method.

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The cooking process for the soup is very meticulous. VNS Photo

Under the old tree canopy in the yard of an ancient house of Bat Trang Village, Hoai explained the traditional dish. According to her, the main ingredients of the soup are dried squid and bamboo shoots. Chicken broth, dried shrimps and other extra ingredients are also used.

The dried bamboo shoots are soaked overnight, then shredded into fine threads and boiled about four times. People in Bat Trang believe it is better to boil the bamboo shoots with rainwater so they have a bright colour.

The dried squid has all its tentacles and sepia bone removed and is washed with hot water, alcohol and ginger to reduce the fishy smell and increase the flavour. The cook will dry the squid and grill it on a charcoal stove to make it fragrant, then also shred it into fine threads.

The squid is fried over low heat until it is dry and bright yellow. Bamboo shoots are also stir-fried with chicken and shrimp broth, added with fish sauce to taste. When there is no water left in the pan, the cook puts the squid in and continues to stir until it's dry, then adds the remaining chicken broth or pork bone broth. It needs to be cooked for about 30 minutes over low heat.

“The most important thing is to choose the ingredients,” Hoai revealed.

“I choose bamboo shoots from Tuyen Quang Province, which are soft and delicious. After being boiled several times, the bamboo shoots will turn white. Thanh Hoa Province's squid is ideal for the dish because it is rich in flavour," she added.

The process of cooking this dish requires extreme meticulousness and care. The bamboo shoots and the squid need to be shredded delicately. Adjusting the heat to match each stage is also a secret to the perfect soup. When stir-frying the shredded squid, the cook must lower the heat to make the squid fragrant without being too crunchy. When they are cooked together, the squid and bamboo shoot should only be on a low heat so the broth is clear and fragrant.

With traditional dishes like squid-bamboo shoot soup, each cook has their own secrets, giving their dishes a unique taste.

“As for my family, for the squid-bamboo shoot soup to be completed, I will put a little chicken fat in the stew to increase the aroma and harmony. There is also shredded pork loin added to the soup,” Hoa said.

Enjoying the dish, Tran Kim Ngan, a visitor, commented: “I came here and had the chance to try the famous squid and bamboo shoot soup of Bat Trang Village. I can feel the fresh flavour of chicken broth, added with the delicate savour of dried squid.

"They shredded and stir-fried ingredients very carefully, so when eating, bamboo shoot and squid mix together and are very harmonious. This is a dish that you will never forget if you taste it once.” VNS

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