The cooler temperatures and higher altitudes of Sapa mean that the crops available to the people in this mountain region vary somewhat to the low-lying areas of Vietnam. This, is in combination with having many different ethnic groups living in the same area, has resulted in a distinctive cuisine in the Sapa region.
Thang co is a traditional dish which is always popular at the markets. This is flavoursome stew is served steaming hot from giant cauldrons and will warm the body, even in the coldest winters. It is made from a blend of 12 different spices, a recipe that no doubt has been passed down through the generations, combined with vegetables and meat. The special chilli added to the soup gives it an extra kick and adds to its warming quality. Originally, horse meat was used, although these days, beef or buffalo is quite common.
Barbequing is popular all over Vietnam, and Sapa is no exception. Each night in Sapa, the road leading from the church towards Thac Bac Waterfall becomes a parade of bbq stalls. The tantalising smells that waft up from the grills never fail to draw a crowd. Sapa has its own distinctive style of bbq, with a special marinade which is slathered onto the meat, fish, tofu and vegetables before being cooked.
Cap Nach Pigs
Cap nach pig translates to pig carried under the arm and refers to the small, wild pigs which are popular in the north of Vietnam. The pigs are allowed to roam free in the wild, foraging in the forests for roughly one year. This free-range lifestyle results in good quality, lean meat.
Sapa also has a special way of preserving meat to create something similar to jerky. Horse, beef, pork or buffalo is hung, dried and smoked, resulting in a chewy and smokey meat. This can either be enjoyed as a snack with a drink or added to soup.
Surprisingly, salmon is a popular meat in Sapa. The cool weather of Sapa is ideal for cultivating salmon. The fish is commonly enjoyed in a delicious hot pot but can also be served as sashimi or cooked in curries.
Sapa has a number of different varieties of the national staple rice. This crop can be seen growing all around in the sloping rice paddies and makes up a large part of the diet.
Sapa com lam is a way of preparing rice on the bbq stands which can be found on almost every street corner. Pre-soaked glutinous rice is seasoned with salt and stuffed into bamboo, before being wrapped in a banana leaf. These tasty packages are then cooked on the barbeque, resulting in sticky, smoky and satisfying rice which can be eaten alone or as a side dish.
Xoi Ngu Sac
Another variation of the classic rice is the beautiful five colour rice, xoi ngu sac. This dish, which originates from the Tay ethnic group, is a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach. The rice is dyed using a variety of different spices and fruits, with each colour representing one of the five elements.
Similar to the rest of the country, this mountainous region has its own variations of home-brewed alcohol.
The wines are often based on a traditional recipe which is particular to one area or village. The recipes have been passed down through the generations and use local ingredients. The wines are often thought to have medical properties and are great at keeping you warm in the colder months. Some to try whilst in Sapa include ruou ban pho, a corn wine from Bac Ha; ruou san lung, a Red Dao rice wine and ruou tao meo, a sweet wine from the Hoang Lien Son Mountains.