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The appeal of eel


No 3, Vol.10 , September  -  October 2015

Northern eel soup is a cultural and gastronomic touchstone



In life, it is easy for people to forget dishes they have enjoyed, because these dishes do not make any impression on their tastes. But Nghe An’s eel soup is unforgettable to anyone who has enjoyed it even once. Thanks to its moreish and distinct aromatic flavour, eel soup has been a famous specialty in Nghe An Province for a long time. Those who set foot on this soil without enjoying a bowl of eel soup feel like they have missed something.
Nghe An Province is where I was born and spent nearly twenty-three years. Therefore, it is natural for me to be proud of my native land, and love it. However, I believe that most visitors, whether Northern or Southern, domestic or international, if they are lucky to have a chance to go to this land, are satisfied with its climate, evergreen surroundings, lovable, friendly and hospitable people, as well as the special foods which they enjoy. Surely, nobody can resist the lure of a bowl of eel soup awakening the senses with its strong flavour, pungent spice and the subtle redolence of peppercorns.
It is not an overstatement that most people are burning to enjoy a bowl of eel soup as soon as their eyes chance upon a bowl of condensed and brownish eel soup mixed with flavorous knotweed and blades of onion. It is the reason why, simple as eel soup is, it nevertheless has become a specific cultural trait. Not only is it the pride and nostalgia of locals, but it also makes a hard–to–forget impression on visitors.
Cooking eel soup is not difficult. The question is how to make it delicious and typical. It is said that it is necessary for housewives to be scrupulous and clever with their hands when making the soup. Eels are cleaned, boiled and boned. As shown by the experience of gastronomes, if we use a piece of bamboo instead of knife to slaughter the eel and an earthen pot to cook eel soup instead of a pan made of copper, eel soup will not be ‘fishy’.
People here stir-fry eel and saffron, and then add a little chili powder and pepper. Nghe An’s eel soup is different from Hanoi’s. For Nghe An’s eel soup, cookers leave pieces of eel intact, and although stir-fried, it is still soft, sweet and moreish. Just by looking at it can we be attracted by the yellow saffron mixed with green onion. When cooking eel soup, locals use delicious ordinary rice and add to it a little sticky rice so that eel soup looks more viscid. More specially, they let the rice remain as it is, then simmer without grinding it as people in other areas do.
In summer, although beads of sweat are standing out on your forehead, you should enjoy a hot bowl of eel soup and accompany it with a cup of green tea as a dessert. In winter, you can add ginger to your cup of green tea to make it cosier.
No words can describe fully the delicacy of Nghe An’s eel soup as well as the wonderful feelings when enjoying it. I only know that it is a special gift and we can’t mistake it for any other. The more modern our life, the more creative people have become in processing delicious food in keeping with the domestic and international culture as well as cuisine. Far from what it was in the past, the face of Nghe An Province is changing for the better day by day. But still, the residents here do let the flavour of eel soup remain as it is. Nghe An’s eel soup moves visitors deeply and gradually goes down in their hearts as a cultural beauty. Therefore, eel soup is still one of the smartest choices for those who come to Nghe An.n

Some eel soup eateries in Vinh City, Nghe An Province:
- Loi, 108 Phan Dinh Phung St
- Hong Son, 154 Mai Hac De St
- Ba Lieu, 87 Mai Hac De St
- Chao Luon Nghe An, 17 Ho Han Thuong St
- Dong Hung Chinh, National Route 15

By Le Van
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