(No.2, Vol.7,Apr-May 2017 Vietnam Heritage Magazine)
There is not a lot to see or do in Tra Vinh Province. There is some quintessentially Mekong countryside — vivid green rice fields and water coconut palms. Many Khmer still live here and their pagodas with their steep horned roofs spiking the sky are a treat for the eye. For the bird watcher this is prime stork country. The eponymous capital town is not much to write home about, but it is a place to relax and soak up the Mekong atmosphere.
I put up at the unimaginatively named Mekong Hotel (Cuu Long). Spick and span with a sumptuous buffet breakfast in a beautiful garden, it was the best place I stayed at on my Mekong tour. I took a stroll around the Ba Om square pond and found nothing special, but it does have a good legend attached to it. The local men and the women decided to have a competition to see who could build a lake the fastest over the course of one night. A woman called Ba Om tricked the men into drinking while the women kept on digging and won.
But there is one very good reason for making a trip out to this rather remote province. There is a kind of coconut unique to this area — and in fact only in one district of the province, namely Cau Ke — that is just pure heaven for the palate. It is called ‘dừa sáp’ which can be translated as the wax coconut though it is also known as the candle coconut. Further adding to its rarity is that fact that only one in more than twenty coconuts growing on a tree will be a dừa sáp. Not surprisingly, it is expensive. One coconut goes for around 200,000 dongs, which makes it twenty times as expensive as an ordinary coconut
Regarding its availability, I asked my students from Tra Vinh. You can find it in Ho Chi Minh City, they informed me, but not in any market. You have to go to the depot of an agent. I was in Tra Vinh town on a business trip and was lucky enough to be invited by my hosts to try some wax coconut. Some say it tastes like a soft cream cheese. Yes, it has the look and the texture of cheese. However, I would say the taste whilst definitely very yummy is quite unique and incomparable. The waxy shining appearance is also very attractive. There is almost no liquid-nearly a hundred per cent coconut meat.
This fruit goes very nicely with cakes or dessert. Made into a pulp it is can be a tasty thick drink with other fruit mixed in. At this point I should add in Vietnam it may be unique to Tra Vinh, but it is more abundantly found in the Philippines where it is known as Macapuno. Over there they have Macapuno-favoured ice cream and they use it sometimes in a popular shaved ice drink known as halo halo. Until the 1950s in the Philippines, this kind of coconut was discarded, as it does not convert to copra and yields no oil
The dừa sáp then is a kind of freak coconut or more scientifically put a mutant. People have tried to grow it outside Cau Ke District of Tra Vinh Province, but with no success. It is certainly hoped that scientists will study this more and find a way to increase production and make it affordable so we shall find it many markets and everyone will be able to enjoy the delicious taste. For now, I highly recommend that you seek it out on your Mekong tour.