True sweetness and light

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The fruit of the sugar palm is at the heart of many appetizing and refreshing drinks and desserts that can tempt the most jaded palate

A sugar palm fruit salad at Den Gion Restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City's District 3

From afar, the Asian Palmyra or sugar palm looks somewhat like a tall coconut tree with a cabbage hat for foliage, but the resemblance fades upon closer inspection.

For one thing, the fruit is sweeter and tastier than coconut in the opinion of many. Forming in clusters, the fruit of the sugar palm, or thốt nốt, contains three jelly seed pockets inside its black husk.

The jelly is a translucent pale white, and is thick, soft and pliable. It tastes a little sweet and a little greasy, and is quite fragrant.

The fruit can be eaten raw, boiled or roasted, and there are simple recipes for making delicious sugar-palm drinks and desserts.

For example, just putting some of the fruit jelly in a glass and adding sugar and ice produces a wonderful drink right away. It's simple yet the taste is elegant, and on a hot summer's day it sends the heat packing.

Jaggery from sugar palm

The sugar palm grows abundantly in An Giang Province in the Mekong Delta, and the locals have taken advantage of their good fortune by devising special recipes based on the fruit.

Producing jaggery, or unrefined palm sugar, starts with climbing the tree in the early morning, bucket in hand, to cut the shoots and collect the dripping juice in the hanging bucket.

The collected juice is promptly heated to make it sour and reduce it to a thickened fluid, which is poured into a bamboo mould and left to cool. When the mould has set, the light yellow jaggery is cut up and the pieces wrapped in sugar palm leaves.

It seems a lot just to get the unrefined sugar but it is well worth the effort because the jaggery makes for a scrumptious sweet soup or other treat.

Sweet soup from sugar palm

A sweet soup of green beans and sugar palm may be the most interesting dessert in An Giang. Its quirky taste certainly makes an impression on tourists and other visitors.

The recipe is simple. To make this sweet soup, remove the husk from the green beans, heat them until they become tender, and sweeten with some sugar palm jaggery.

Then, cook some sugar palm kernels in a pot of water until they become tender. Combine the cooked ingredients and serve the sweet soup with coconut milk.

More from sugar palm

It would be remiss to omit bánh gói thốt nốt, which is a kind of stuffed dough made from rice flour and sugar palm, and wrapped in banana leaf.

The ingredients for this An Giang specialty are rice flour, jaggery, coconut milk, green beans and sugar palm fruit.

To make it, start by dehusking the green beans and cooking them until they are tender. Let the beans cool and crush them into a pulp.

Next, grate the husk of an old sugar palm fruit into powder, add some water and stir thoroughly, then filter the liquid to get a distinctive aroma.

Now for the rice, which must be soaked in water for two hours and then ground into a paste.

Combine the rice flour, jaggery, coconut milk and sugar palm water in a pot, add a little salt, and cook over medium heat. Stir the mixture constantly until it thickens into a doughy mass.

Spoon some dough onto a square or rectangle of banana leaf and shape it with the fingers so that it is flat and round. Place green beans on the dough, sprinkle on some threaded coconut and wrap the dough in the leaf into a rectangular or pyramid shape as desired.

When the wrapped dough is ready, put it into a steamer and cook for several hours. Then serve the inviting and appealing treat with a unique aroma.

Desserts based on sugar palm fruit are so popular that they have spread north to Ho Chi Minh City.

At Le Hong Phong Market in Alley 374, Le Hong Phong Street, Ward 1, District 10, shoppers can buy the jelly fruit to prepare yummy desserts for their families at home. It is also available in supermarkets.

Or, they can discover the interesting flavors of the sugar palm at the sweet soup restaurants on Nguyen Tri Phuong Street, also in District 10. They serve a variety of sweet soups made with sugar palm fruit.

At Den Gion Restaurant (49 Ngo Thoi Nhiem Street, District 3) you can also enjoy sugar palm fruit salad.

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