Dê tái chanh (rare steamed goat mixed with lemon) is one of the best-known dishes in Ninh Binh Province
One of the best-known dishes in the northern province of Ninh Binh is rare goat meat.
The mountainous Gia Vien and Hoa Lu districts, more than 100 kilometers from Hanoi, have the largest number of restaurants serving the dish.
Goats have been raised on these limestone mountains for a long time, and it is said that their meat tastes much better than anywhere else.
We accompanied a local named Nguyen Khac Khoa in Hoa Lu District to his farm in the mountains. It was a nice experience.
The farm was in fact a large cave halfway up a high mountain. Khoa does not need to feed his animals since they manage excellently with the wild grasses and tree leaves there.
"That is why the meat of my goats always has the best taste and flavor," he said.
"Since Ninh Binh's goat meat is becoming more and more popular, many people here are raising goats at home and feeding them to meet the increasing demand.
"But home-raised goats produce flat and base meat which cannot compare in quality with those raised on mountains."
Billy goats who still have their milk teeth always taste the best, he said. To prove his point, he caught one to serve seven of us a big lunch at his house.
He supplies goat meat to small restaurants to serve their VIP guests.
"There are various dishes made from goat meat, like dê nưá»›ng (roasted goat meat) and lẩu dê (goat meat hot pot)," he said.
Here are some restaurants serving goat dishes in Ninh Binh:
* Thang Long Restaurant, Chi Phong Village, Truong Yen Commune, Hoa Lu District, tel: (030) 3 620 186.
* Hoang Giang Restaurant, Hang Ca Mountain, Truong Yen Commune, Hoa Lu District, tel: (030) 3 620 072
* Cao Son Restaurant, Village No.4, Bai Dinh Pagoda area, tel: (030) 3 832 169.
A plate of dê tái chanh is normally priced at VND100,000-150,000.
"[But] dê tái chanh (rare steamed goat mixed with lemon) seems the most popular."
To make this dish, Khoa chopped up the goat into one-kilogram pieces and steamed them with lemon grass. Then he left the meat to cool before thinly slicing it. The next step was to mix the sliced meat with roasted and pounded sesame or peanut, lemon extract, ginger and red pepper.
"Dê tái chanh will lose half of its taste without a special sauce called tương (soy sauce)," Khoa said.
He instructed us to wrap the sliced meat with unripe banana and herbs in either fig leaves or thin rice paper dipped in soy sauce for a buttery, acrid but sweet flavor.
We were also told to enjoy the rare goat meat with the famous local Kim Son rice alcohol.
The dish was heavenly.