During our visit to Kép Ram Village in Hòa Bình Commune, Kon Tum City, we had the pleasure of tasting the signature cassava leaf salad of the Gia Rai people. This rustic dish, rich in mountain flavors, left a lasting impression on us.

Convenience stores and supermarkets in Kon Tum City

Discover Gác Măng Rê Cafe, Coffee Shop Near Kon Tum Wooden Church

Although we had tried various rustic dishes made from cassava leaves before, this time we were mesmerized by the cassava leaf salad with Lao eggplants and dried Se San anchovies prepared by Ms. Y Cô Viên, a 36-year-old resident of Kép Ram Village. Ms. Viên is one of the few young people in Kép Ram passionate about and skilled in preparing her ethnic group's traditional dishes. She is dedicated to preserving and promoting the culinary beauty of the Gia Rai people to both locals and visitors.

Knowing our interest in the cassava leaf salad, Ms. Viên happily shared the recipe with us on the porch of her traditional stilt house. Enthusiastic about her favorite subject, she captivated us with her storytelling.

Ms. Y Cô Viên is deeply passionate about the traditional cuisine of the Gia Rai people.

Ms. Viên explained that her love for cooking stemmed from her mother and grandmother. Despite many years passing, she still vividly remembers helping her mother in the kitchen prepare family meals or assisting with cooking during festival seasons. These moments ignited her passion for cooking. By fifth grade, Ms. Viên could prepare family meals and cook traditional dishes from cassava leaves and roots. Although her dishes back then were not yet perfect, she always received praise and encouragement from her mother.

"In the past, women born in the village mostly cooked very well without any formal training. One generation passed the knowledge to the next, making rustic and traditional dishes familiar, refined, and improved to be more delicious and visually appealing. Especially, dishes made from cassava leaves are very familiar to the Gia Rai people and indispensable in daily meals," Ms. Viên shared.

After a long conversation, Ms. Viên decided to personally prepare the cassava leaf salad with Lao eggplants and Se San anchovies for us. This is one of the traditional dishes that is easy to make, easy to eat, yet very nutritious, ensuring the freshness and purity of the ingredients.

The tiny Lao eggplants are fragrant and crispy, adding a distinctive flavor to the cassava leaf salad.

Going to her backyard, Ms. Viên quickly gathered enough ingredients to fill her basket, including young cassava leaves, Lao eggplants, Lao lemongrass, and various aromatic leaves for seasoning and decoration. For the cassava leaf salad, the most important thing is to find the right cassava leaves like old cassava leaves, crispy cassava leaves, and green cassava leaves (which are now very rare) to ensure softness and avoid toxicity. The leaves must be young and tender to ensure softness and avoid bitterness. Lao eggplants must be chosen while still green. Other ingredients must also be carefully selected; the fresher they are, the more delicious and authentic the dish will be.

First, all ingredients are cleaned. Then, the cassava leaves are softened gradually and soaked in salt water to reduce bitterness. Lao eggplants are lightly boiled. Se San anchovies are roasted over low heat until fragrant. Next, spices including garlic, chili, dried shallots, and pounded Lao lemongrass are sautéed. Fish sauce and salt are added, then the cassava leaves are tossed quickly and evenly until just cooked, then the eggplants are added. When everything is evenly cooked, the anchovies are mixed in, and additional seasoning can be added to taste.

After an hour of preparation, the dish was ready. On the porch of her stilt house, Ms. Y Cô Viên skillfully arranged and decorated the dish. The sight of the green cassava leaf salad mixed with Se San anchovies and fragrant Lao eggplants made everyone eager to try.

Each of us took a bite, accompanied by crispy rice paper, and nodded in approval. The softness of the cassava leaves, the crunchiness of the Lao eggplants, and the fragrant Se San anchovies, all blended together, creating a savory and slightly spicy taste from the spices. For me, this dish was very easy to eat, with a rustic, familiar flavor. The cook has her unique touch that is hard to replicate in any restaurant.

The cassava leaf salad with Lao eggplants and Se San anchovies is beautifully decorated and deliciously aromatic.

Watching everyone enjoy the dish in a cheerful atmosphere, Ms. Viên shared that she often prepares and demonstrates this cassava leaf salad at local culinary competitions. To make the dish more accessible, she sometimes adjusts the traditional ingredients. Besides cassava leaf salad, cassava leaves can be used in various dishes such as stir-fries, soups, porridges, with ingredients like shrimp, pork belly, chicken, or dried fish. Cassava leaves can be prepared by pounding, grinding, or fermenting. In the past, with an abundance of traditional ingredients, cassava dishes had a more distinctive flavor but might be challenging for first-time tasters.

Participating in many culinary competitions, Ms. Y Cô Viên and her traditional dishes, including the cassava leaf salad with Lao eggplants and Se San anchovies, have become familiar. These simple, rustic yet sophisticated dishes have enchanted many tourists and locals.

Talking about her future plans, Ms. Y Cô Viên expressed her desire for her ethnic group's traditional dishes, including the cassava leaf salad with Lao eggplants and Se San anchovies, to be widely known and promoted through competitions and festivals. These are not just local specialties but also evoke the taste of home, family meals filled with love. As a young person, Ms. Viên understands the importance of preserving and promoting the beautiful traditional values of her ethnic group to avoid them fading away.

Enjoying delicious food in a cheerful atmosphere, everyone took out their phones to take pictures and record videos for memories. Ms. Y Cô Viên, in her traditional Gia Rai attire, was friendly, enthusiastic, and full of love and pride for her hometown and its traditional dishes. I felt an unusual joy and promised myself to invite friends and family to Kép Ram Village to enjoy these delicious, rustic, and nutritious traditional dishes.


Reference: Kon Tum Newspaper