Nhà hàng Khám Phá Việt, Restaurant, Sapa, Vietnam
Nhiem, my Vietnamese friend and partner, has once again tested me. The Meos or Hmongs, the minorities from Vietnamese mountain town Sapa, have their own traditional dishes, as do all of us.
There is a kind of cooking element on your table, fired by gas, in which broth gets heated. This broth is made out of horse meat, bones etc. – containing horse innards and congealed horse blood. The broth is precooked and added to the pot at the beginning.
It is usually served with assorted greens such as cabbage, salads and herbs, and less often, but not uncommonly, tofu and quite particular Pho (rice noodles), in this case very specially prepared.
When I told my mother about this dinner, she listened calmly and said there are much worse things. Indeed she is right. Normally I eat almost all innards of calf, lamb or birds. Why to spurn a horse liver if you eat Venetian style veal liver without batting an eye? Or the heart of an ox. But I can understand some hesitation because in this case the preparation was rather simple – if not coarse. Additionally, you never know how fresh these animal ingredients are – and how they have been stored, since Vietnam is a rather warm country. So you need to take care that everything is cooked very well. But this you can actually control yourself, sitting in front of the cooking flame, so it is not a problem.
Was it good? Partially, yes. The longer the broth simmered the better it tasted. The congealed blood was pretty delicious, though the kidney and in particular the smaller intestine wasn’t my favorite.
Usually I consider tofu very overrated and boring. Though in this case, together with the broth, it was pretty nice. By far the best were the noodles.
Kind of broad noodles, rolled up into small rolls that open when they’re cooked. Give them only a minute or so, and they keep a nice consistency. Very good.
Perhaps the place itself is key to the whole experience of a dinner at Nhà hàng Khám Phá Việt. On three floors, nice wood interior, and you find you place either sitting on the ground or on small stools around some round table, big enough for a group of up to six or even eight people. Guests are continually coming and going. Many of them belong to tourist groups visiting this place: but these are exclusively Vietnamese tourists. Even though there are many “long noses” in Sapa I haven’t seen any Europeans, Americans or Australians at this place. I wonder why? Some sources even say it is the oldest and perhaps most famous restaurant of Sapa. Is the cuisine too extreme? This is real Vietnamese food – there is more than only chicken and lemongrass or seafood and rice. Much more.
According to Nhiem, aside from the fact that horse meat in general is healthy (that I wouldn’t doubt), another advantage of horse innards is stronger virility. Why then, when we came to Nhà hàng Khám Phá Việt, was the quota of female guests ca 90%! Please indulge yourself watching the video above. Great atmosphere by the way! And Nhiem, jovially awaiting dinner in a few minutes, which is always a very good moment with him. If you drink enough of their homemade schnaps, virility settles down quickly. But you do need the schnaps to eat all these kinds of innards.
It might be rather unlikely that any of you dear readers would ever come to Sapa, but if you ever end up on a long-awaited journey to Vietnam, try to find this restaurant! Sapa is the northwest of Vietnam, in a mountain area called Hoàng Liên Sơn.
It is famous because of those minorities (Hmong (Meo), Tay and Dao) but also because of the amazing countryside, nature and mountains. Vietnam’s highest mountain, called Phan Xi Păng (Fanispan), is close by, too. I have been in Sapa for the first time probably around 2001. It has changed tremendously since then, not for the best, I must say. In 2001, it was still an undiscovered charming regional capital of this area, which at this time was rather poor but well structured. The highlight, once upon a time, was the wedding market, an event where young men and women would try to find their life partners. If only it were so easy. However, it was like this, because people didn’t travel, not even walking (just to look for a mate) to the village at the end of the valley – considering the vast distances and all of the duties of home. Today Sapa is a hectic kind of touristic place, something like Mittenwald of Vietnam – kitschy, relatively unpleasant and too loud for a mountain retreat place. The poorest of all are some traditionally dressed Hmong kids and their mothers offering to sell you some cheap trinkets.
Nonetheless, since the land around Sapa is so beautiful, you can just leave the town and go trekking, or go by car down to the next valley – where are terraces for rice planting, as well as corn, or up any mountain, where you’ll find jungle and some really small villages.
Here’s the website of Nhà hàng Khám Phá Việt: http://www.nhahangsapa.com/