Typical ingredients for the dish of leaf salad in Kon Tum City. (Photo: NDO)
NDO – When visiting Kon Tum, visitors can not only admire the white coffee flowers in bloom in March or the bright yellow wild sunflowers in November but also visit famous architectural works while enjoying the specialties of the Central Highland Region, especially the unique leaf salad.
Tran Cao Van street has been known as the “street” of leaf salad in Kon Tum City with its many restaurants. The locals eat leaf salad all year round. Notably in the rainy season (from May to November), when the water of the Dak Bla river turns red due to alluvium and the coffee fields are covered by dark green leaves, the ingredients for the leaf salad are most abundant. The dish often consists of around 40-50 kinds of leaf or even up to 60 if the locals are lucky to find some other kinds in the forest.
Leaves from familiar and easy-to-find crops are very diverse, examples including the laksa leaves, broadleaf plantain, spring onion, houttuynia, mustard greens, apricot leaves, bitter melon, tamarind, polyscias fruticose, perilla, figs and guava. In addition, there are many other strange leaves including the ngu gia bi (schefflera heptaphylla), la tram (syzygium cuminii), bua sung (wild garcinia), sam la (tiliacora triandra), and la mat gau (green chiretta).
Leaf salads are in perfect concordance with other dishes such as thinly sliced bacon, roasted shrimp and sliced pork skin mixed with finely pounded galangal and spices as well as peppercorn, salt and green chili, the characteristic aroma of the basalt red soil. The dipping sauce, which is made from wine wort, looks like thick porridge, has a saffron colour and is very fleshy.
From the above ingredients, diners choose a leaf with a large and thick plate, roll it into a shape like a small funnel, and optionally add other types of leaves, meat, shrimp, chili and other spices. Finally, we use a spoon to scoop the dipping sauce onto it. Taking a big bite and chewing well, diners can feel the blend of sour, sweet, bitter, cool, acrid, fragrant, spicy and fatty flavours. What would be amazing would be to roll different leaves to enjoy different tastes.
No one knows when leaf salad first arose. Maybe the ancient experiences drawn by the “children of the forest” created the unique dish, who is to say…
Translated by NDO
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