Thang Co – Unique Food In Sapa

Located in Vietnam’s northwestern remote mountains, Sapa is famous for not only its stunning hidden landscapes but its wide variety of unique specialties as well. However, there is a dish that could horrify everyone with its extremely unpleasant smell but as well makes you addicted to it just by taking the first bite. And that is Thắng Cố, one of the most well-known dishes in Northwestern Vietnam.

>>>For travel tips to Sapa, please visit here

1/Traditional Food Of The H’mong:

Thắng Cố or so-called Thắng Cố Ngựa is a traditional food of the H’mong people and believed to have first appeared more than 200 years ago, when the H’mong, Tay, Nung ethnic groups migrated to Bac Ha in Lao Cai province. It is originated from the northeastern mountainous Ha Giang, and gradually gained popularity among all of the ethnic minorities in the remote northern mountains of Vietnam. People here are really proud of Thang Co dish.

Sapa is not only famous for its stunning sceneries but also its most special food. Source: Whereto



In the past, the main ingredient to make a traditional Thang Co dish is horse meat, instead of buffalo meat, pork or beef like the Kinh’s cuisines. Each kind of remade recipe of Thang Co owns its featured flavor; however, Thang Co in Bac Ha ( Muong Khuong) may obtain the best flavor.

Despite its unique taste, the cooking process is quite simple with 12 traditional ingredients, for instance, cardamom, citronella, ginger, star aniseed, cinnamon twig, Thang Co plant and others.

3/The recipe:

To make the dish, firstly, meat and internal organs must be carefully cleaned by being boiled up and then sliced into pieces before marinated. After that, without any oil, it will be fried up in a big pan on a charcoal stove. Lastly, we will leave all of the spices, together with main ingredients prepared, to simmer for hours. For a tastier dish, backbones and ribs are added to make the soup more flavored and sweeter. In order to make the soup look clearer, we must strain the veggies from the broth.

It is maybe a featured characteristic of Thang Co when we use a big pot or a kind of deep-fry pan instead of a normal pot and the pot is always seethed even when customers are enjoying it. It should be eaten with fresh vegetables such as lemongrass, chayote, cabbage, chili leaf, especially special sauce of H’mong people, which is made from Muong Khuong chili.

Thang Co – one of the unique specialties in Vietnam Source:














Thang Co can also be eaten with mèn mén, grilled corn, especially aromatic corn wine. The best recommendation for you to fully experience the authentic taste is enjoying Thang Co with a little warm and aromatic ethnic corn wine of Bac Ha or San Lung wine.

4/Only on special occasions:

Previously, Thang Co was only served on the special occasions like Tet holiday, village’s big crop festivals or in the large fair like Bac Ha market, which was not held regularly. Nowadays, it is gaining more popularity and appears in the menus of many restaurants. However, to get the real and original taste of the food, you should have the dish in fairs and markets in Sapa, especially in Bac Ha market.

If you plan to travel to Sapa, you must not miss this one-of-a-kind specialty of the mountainous upland, the unique recipe of Northwest Vietnam.

>>>For travel tips to Sapa, please visit here

Trang Nguyen

Interesting Stories Behind The 130-Year-Old Cha Ca La Vong Restaurant

One of the very special dish of  Vietnam is chả, something only unique to Vietnam that no one can find the right word with the same meaning in any other languages. Therefore, I will not translate the name of this extraordinary Vietnamese dish into English, but use words in the most uttering sense of my ability to convey the meaning of the food itself to all you readers. In this article, I will only be discussing about one particular kind of ‘chả’ which has helped a restaurant stand firmly in Hanoi cuisine for 130 years: Chả cá Lã Vọng.


Chả cá Lã Vọng is a dish made from fish (usually sliced catfish), marinated in charcoal, grilled on charcoal and then fried in fat pans. Very simple. And the question remains is: Why can something so simple be so popular? Now I will unveil some interesting stories on this particular Vietnamese cuisine.

1/ The origin:

There is a very interesting story behind the famous name Lã Vọng of this particular kind of ‘chả cá’.In the French colonial period, at No. 14 Hàng Sơn Street, there was the Đoàn family who often use their place to shelter the Đề Thám army. The head of the family often made a very delicious ‘chả cá’ for the people who come by their house, then customers gradually became close with the family itself. The guests started to help the family to open a restaurant specializing in selling ‘chả cá’, both to support the family and also to create a gathering place.

As time went by, the two words ‘Chả Cá’ became the name of the street itself. In the restaurant, there was always a figure of Lã Vọng – Khương Tử Nha sitting with his knees crossing while fishing – a symbol of talented people who are waiting for their time to come. Therefore, the customers were used to call the dish chả cá Lã Vọng’, which now has become the official name of the restaurant and also the dish itself. The secret recipe of this dish is only handed down to the eldest child of the Đoàn family.


2/How they made it:

The fish used to make ‘chả cá’ should be little, sweet and fleshy. The most special and also extremely rare one is made from the Anh Vũ fish, caught at the junction of Bạch Hạc River (Việt Trì – Phú Thọ). Fish fillets are sliced from the sides, marinated in galangal, turmeric, chili, shrimp sauce in a special esoteric manner for at least 2 hours, then clamped in bamboo pair (or greased grill). The grillman must flip the grill from time to time so that the two sides are equally golden.

Right before served, the grilled meat will be put into a pan with a bit of animal fat – this is the traditional recipe of ‘chả cá’ – on the charcoal stove set in the middle of the table. When the pieces are golden yellow boiled in the fat, dill and onions are added to the pan to stir and quickly separated into bowls. Often cooking oil is not used to fry fish because it has a lower temperature and make the fish less tasty.


3/ How to eat it:

‘Chả cá’ must be served when still hot. When eating, put several ‘chả cá’ pieces into your bowl, rinse a bit of boiling fat on top, add some ‘bún rối’ (tangled rice vermicelli)’, ‘bánh tráng nướng’ (grilled rice paper), roasted peanuts, sliced cucumber, dill, Welsh onions, pickled lemon, and a little bit of ‘mắm tôm‘ (shrimp paste.) Shrimp paste is prepared by squeezing fresh lemon, a bit of fat, sugar, white wine and chilli, beat until bubbly and a little bit of belostomatid oil. Some foreigners cannot eat shrimp paste so they can have fish sauce instead, but the fish sauce makes the favour ‘chả cá’ be reduced, more or less.

>>>Heard of another Vietnamese dish with shrimp paste (Bun Dau Mam Tom,) have a look here

This dish can be served with wine and is suitable to eat in cold weather. In hot weather, customers often drink beer while having the dish.


4/ Where to eat

The majority of foreigners who come to Hanoi with an interest in this dish often visit the 130 year-old Chả cá Lã Vọng Restaurant.

This is the famous restaurant I mentioned above.


Address: 14 Chả Cá Street and 107 Nguyễn Trường Tộ Street. The one on Chả Cá Street is relatively small but it is the original restaurant from the old times, while the one on Nguyễn Trường Tộ Street is clean and more spacious, suitable for large groups of people.

Price: 175,000 VND/person (7.71$/person)

If you have any questions or problems about travelling in Vietnam or just anything at all, please don’t hesitate to contact us for assistance. We would be thrilled to help.


Ngọc Lê



Sesame balls – A Food Toy

Sesame balls, ‘bánh lúc lắc’ in the North of Vietnam or ‘bánh cam’ in the South, are a type of fried Asian crispy pastry made from glutinous rice flour, filled with bean paste and coated with sesame seeds.

In Vietnam, the image of sesame balls is often attached to the image of a little boy sitting on the porch of the house, singing songs and waiting for the return of his grandmother from the market. When she goes back, she does not forget to give him some snacks like cakes, candies, and sesame balls.

Sesame balls went to his childhood and other Vietnameses in that way. The pastry is nothing luxurious and can be found in almost every area of Vietnam in any season of the year. When the cold season approaches, sitting next to the heater and enjoying the crispy and sweet sesame balls would be so wonderful. When you take the cake and shake it slightly, you can hear the movement of the bean filling inside. That is the reason why sesame balls are sometimes considered as a toy!

A man selling sesame balls in Saigon (Photo: aFamily)

How To Make Sesame Balls

Fried sesame balls are made from local ingredients such as first-class glutinous rice, mung beans, sugar and white sesame seeds.

First of all, glutinous rice flour and rice flour are mixed together. Boil water with sugar and then slowly pour into the mixture while carefully kneading it to create dough. Wait for an hour so that the dough can absorb water and become thicken. After that, shape it into round balls.

Photo: Doi song va Phap Luat


As for the filling, mung beans are washed and soaked for several hours. Then they are steamed up, finely sliced and mixed with sugar and cooking oil to produce a smooth mixture. After that, the filling is divided into small round balls. When putting the filling into the crust, it is important to make sure that the cake is round and not distorted. Next, the cake will be soaked in white sesame seeds and then placed in a tray before being fried.

Photo: Doi song va Phap Luat
Photo: Doi song va Phap Luat

Put the pan on the stove, pour a lot of oil and wait until it is boiled then drop the sesame balls into the pan. Try to roll the balls constantly to prevent the filling from sticking onto the crust. This step is completed when the balls are in golden brown.


Photo: Doi song va Phap Luat


A perfect sesame ball is brownish yellow, bulging and not flattened when cooled. The crust should be thin and fragile, the stuffing is rounded and not sticky to the covering. Holding the ball and shake it lightly, we can feel the filling rolling inside.

Photo: Doi song va Phap Luat


Recommended places to enjoy sesame balls:

Banner photo source:

Vietnamese School Snacks

You may have known, and even tasted some popular Vietnamese cuisines like Pho, Banh Xeo, Bun Cha, Hu tieu, etc. These food usually appear in the daily lives of every Vietnamese. But how about Vietnamese school snacks, are there any uniqueness compared with other countries? I bet there are. If you do not believe me, please explore with me the world of school snacks in Vietnam! You may be amazed by the diverse Vietnamese cuisines.

The difference in regional culture and climate will create different snacks for each region in Vietnam. However, the common points of these snacks are the convenience, deliciousness, and more importantly, low price. Below is the list of five most popular snacks among Vietnamese students for many years.

  1. Mixture Rice Paper (Bánh Tráng Trộn)

    Mixture Rice Paper. (Photo:

This is one of the most popular snacks in Vietnam, especially in Southern region. Until recent years, this snack has found its way to Hanoi and quickly gain popularity among young Hanoians.

As the name implies, mixture rice paper includes rice paper as the main ingredient, mixed with mango threads, dried beef threads, dried small shrimps, dried onion, quail eggs, lemon/ kumquat juice, soy sauce, and chilly sauce. These ingredients make the snack have the mixture of different tastes like salty, spicy, sweet and sour.

  1. Fruits with Chilly Salt (Hoa Quả Muối Ớt)

Mango with chilly salt. (Photo:

This food is far more popular among girl students and can completely be made by themselves with easy recipe. As a country with tropical humid climate, Vietnam has various types of fruits. But only sour fruits, crunchy and not too sweet, become a target of Vietnamese girl students. The most commonly chosen fruits are green mango, guava, etc. Green mangoes are hard but easily sliced  to pieces, and then mixed together with the chilli salt (or ‘Muối Ớt’ in Vietnamese.) This cuisine is easy to prepare in just a few minutes, but its attractiveness is irresistible.

  1. Fried Fish Balls/ Meatballs (Cá Bò Viên Chiên)

Sticks of fried fish balls and meatballs are popular snacks after school. After consumers order, the sellers will put fish balls/meatballs sticks into an oil pan and cook them for some minutes. After well cooked, added with chili sauce (tương ớt) and hoisin sauce (tương đen,) hot sticks of fish balls and meatballs are ready to be enjoyed. Imagine when the weather is cold, groups of students standing around the sellers, waiting for their orders, trembling when each cold breeze flies by while chatting joyfully with each other. It is Vietnam. Interesting, right?

  1. Bean Curd with Coconut Milk

Bean Curd with Coconut Milk. (Photo:

This cuisine is favored in both winter and summer. Made from soybeans, the taste of bean curd is cool and sweet, softer and smoother than normal tofu. An bowl of iced bean curd in summer and a hot one in winter, accompanied with coconut milk and bubbles would make your stomach satisfied.

  1. Melon/Pumpkin Seeds (Hạt Dưa, Hạt Bí)

You may notice the appearance of these seeds in many Vietnamese households during Lunar New Year. Melon seeds and pumpkin seeds are usually placed on a plate and served during talk with guests. As its outer is a hard shell, ones must use their teeth flexibly to extract the inner part of the seed. Truthfully, the popping sound of cracked shells becomes the engine of New Year conversations. And when every Lunar New Year passes, melon and pumpkin seeds are indispensable snacks at class. The seeds then become the engine of the chitchat among students.

Hopefully this article brings you more interesting and useful information about an unique feature of food culture in Vietnam. How about you? How are school snacks in your country? Please share with Vietnam Track.

Writer: Linh Dang.
Translators: Diem Nguyen, Nhat Nguyen.

Bun Dau Mam Tom – Daydream Dressed Like Nightmare

Bún đậu mắm tôm’ (Rice vermicelli with shrimp paste and fried tofu) is guaranteed to be one of the most memorable dishes of your life. Once you have tasted it, you would never forget it. It will forever be engraved in your mind with one or two of the following impressions: terror and/or fascination.

Bún đậu mắm tôm’ is a simple traditional food in the Northern Vietnamese cuisine. The main ingredients of this dish include fresh rice vermicelli, golden fried tofu, shrimp paste with lemon and chili sauce served with fragrant herbs such as shiso, marjoram, basil and lettuce,etc. Like many other folk dishes, its affordable price makes ‘bún đậu mắm tôm’ very popular among all classes of society, from the working class to the top-notch one.


Bún đậu mắm tôm’ is very different from normal food because of the specially made ‘mắm tôm’ (shrimp paste) which has one of the most extreme tastes in Vietnamese cuisine. It is not surprising that few foreigners could eat this extraordinary dish, whilst almost every Vietnamese (especially Northerners) love it so much.

‘Mắm tôm’ (Shrimp paste)

Known as the soul of ‘Bún đậu mắm tôm’, shrimp paste is a sauce made from shrimp and salt through the process of fermentation to create the unique taste and color. Not only in ‘Bún đậu mắm tôm’ is shrimp paste also used in many other traditional Northern Vietnamese dishes such as ‘bún riêu’ (rice vermicelli with crab soup) and bún thang’ (hot rice noodle soup).


There are usually three forms of shrimp paste: dense, thick (mushy) and liquid. These three forms are only different in the proportion of salt and the process of sun exposure.

In the beliefs of Vietnamese people, shrimp paste has the effect of banishing evil spirits. It is believed that devils are afraid of this kind of sauce, so shrimp paste eaters will not be harmed by the devils. Placing shrimp paste in the house will avoid the appearance of ghosts. Not only people of the lowlands like to eat shrimp paste, but also many ethnic people in the mountainous.

Some mountain ethnic people even have the custom that no matter how poor they are, there always must be shrimp paste to consecrate the deaths of their father because shrimp paste is often considered as luxurious, since the mountaineers live so far from the river where the shrimps are caught.

‘Bún tươi’ (Fresh rice vermicelli)

In Vietnamese cuisine, rice vermicelli is a thin form of rice noodles, round, soft and white fillet made from dried rice starch through the molds and boiled water.


In short, ‘bún’ to ‘bún đậu mắm tôm’ is like burger to hamburger.

‘Đậu phụ chiên vàng’ (Golden fried tofu)

Tofu is a traditional food of several Asian countries such as China and Vietnam. Tofu is originated by China, made by soy beans, grinded then soaked in water. The starch then flows into water, coming together in the shape decided by the creators, while the waste is filtered out.  The common shapes are squares, circles, or rectangles.


When the products are finished, they can be cut into rectangles and fried with oil in a big pan.

‘Rau thơm’ (Fragrant herbs)

There are many kinds of fragrant herbs can be eaten with ‘bún đậu mắm tôm’ such as shiso, marjoram, basil and lettuce, etc. All washed, fresh and clean before served.


Originally, there are only those simple ingredients in ‘bún đậu mắm tôm’ in order to make it as cheap and accessible to as many laborers as possible. However, as time flies and thanks to the development of the country, today’s Vietnamese can eat ‘bún đậu mắm tôm’ with the combination of a few additional delicious ingredients.

‘Thịt heo luộc’ (Boiled pork)

Boiled pork is pork boiled and chopped into thin slices.


‘Chả cốm’

This is my favourite ‘chả’ in the world. The taste of its is indescribable. Trust me, tasting is believing.


Where to eat?

The are many famous ‘bún đậu mắm tôm’ eateries all over Vietnam. If you are in Saigon, do not hesitate to check out the amazing ‘Bún đậu Cầu Gỗ’ hawker stall, my favourite ‘bún đậu mắm tôm’ destination.


Adress: 202 Nguyễn Trãi, Phạm Ngũ Lão, Hồ Chí Minh

Opening hours: 8:00am – 11:00pm

Phone: 090 833 57 78

Price: ~70.000/person (3.07$)

If you have any problem travelling in Vietnam, please don’t hesitate to contact us for more assistance. We would be thrilled to help.

Ngọc Lê