Eating the big bird

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Ask someone in the street if they've ever eaten ostrich and he answer will probably be no.

For many, the experience of eating ostrich meat is an unfamiliar one. But, this looks ready to change in Vietnam where more and more people are tasting, and liking, the big bird.

Dishes with ostrich meat as the main ingredient have only been available in Ho Chi Minh City in recent years, but they are already attracting a great deal of attention and are starting to be featured heavily on restaurants' menus.

But, how has this come about and why is it becoming popular?

"Ostrich meat is a very special meat, known for its lean, springy texture and its remarkable flavor. Even if it is poultry, the meat is red, not white like most other birds. The meat looks and tastes much like beef, but is much healthier as it has only one-eighth the fat and half the calories you would find in beef, chicken or turkey." says Chef Ho Wing Sang from Dynasty Restaurant at the New World Hotel Saigon in Ho Chi Minh City.

Not only this, but cholesterol content is lower, iron content is high and it is less fatty than other meats. For those who are overweight and suffering from cardiovascular problems, ostrich meat is the perfect alternative. These benefits can perhaps help to explain why the meat has become so popular as of late.

Serve it up

So how is the meat prepared?

In Australia, they serve ostrich with Marture sauce, made from apples, pears and pine apples. The eye-catching dish is both sweet and colorful.

Other dishes cooked western-style include da dieu luc lac (stir fried ostrich cube), da dieu sot tieu xanh (ostrich with green pepper sauce) and da dieu nuong mu tac (grilled ostrich with mustard sauce).

In Vietnam, however, they have their own way of preparing the meat.

Chef Huynh Thi Anh, an award-winning chef in HCMC, uses ostrich and egg to put a spin on the well-known dish banh xeo (rice pancake).

Banh xeo is traditionally made with ingredients such as rice flour, water, turmeric powder, slivers of fatty pork, shrimp and bean sprouts.

In Anh's version of the dish, the original ingredients are replaced with ostrich meat, ostrich eggs, shrimp and squid. Instead of bean sprouts, she uses hoa thien ly (Tonkinese creeper flower), pumpkin flower and Sesbania grandiflora flower to create a dish quite different to the original.

The pancake is then wrapped in mustard leaf with wild betel leaf and young mango leaves and dipped into a sweet and sour fish sauce to create an assault on the taste buds.

Vietnamese chefs also use ostrich meat to create versions of other traditional dishes such as spring rolls and noodle soup. Stewed ostrich with citronella is another option.

Where to eat it

It is because of the various health benefits of ostrich meat that New World Hotel has launched a new promotion this month. Ostrich and Mushroom Temptations gives customers the chance to sample Australian ostrich meat cooked in a variety of ways.

"We are really looking forward to serving the subtle ostrich meat to customers," says Chef Ho Wing Sang, adding that the promotion will take customers on a new culinary journey.

Dishes being offered include da dieu xao nam dui ga voi sot tieu den (sautéed sliced ostrich with chicken leg mushrooms in black pepper sauce), da dieu cuon nam kim cham chien voi sot BBQ (pan fried ostrich meat rolls with enoki mushrooms in BBQ sauce), and phi le da dieu chien sot sa te (pan-fried ostrich fillet with satay sauce).

For those wanting to expand their culinary horizons, you can taste ostrich meat at the following restaurants:

Dynasty (in New World Hotel Saigon)
76 Le Lai Street, District 1, HCMC
Tel: (08) 3 822 8888

César
177-179 Le Thanh Ton Street, District 1, HCMC

F&C
135 Ho Ba Kien Street, District 10, HCMC

Q&Q
73 Nui Truc Street, Ba Dinh District, Hanoi
Tel: (04) 6 273 2025 - (04) 2 218 3469

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