Life Life

23/10/2018 - 08:01

Lotus root soup with dried squid: both strange and familiar

In Hue, lotus roots can be processed into tens of dishes, ranging from popular to exquisite.

Lotus root soup with dried squid _ strange and delicious

It was because of (or perhaps thanks to) going to Vinh Thanh (Phu Vang), seeing now and then sweltering faces and muddy feet searching for lotus roots in lotus fields.

It was because of dropping by a small restaurant for something to eat at noon. No sooner did I sit down than I heard sizzling sounds and felt an aroma both familiar and strange. Curiously I went to the kitchen and saw a few earth-colored lotus roots, as big as a child’s wrist, smelling of mud, some dried squids and some wet pinkish-white trotters in the corner.

The restaurant owner was a bit fat with a radiant smile: “This is to cook for the whole family tonight. Now I’m going to make lotus root soup with dried squid for you. In this so hot weather at noon, the soup will cool you down soon.”

Soup cooked with dried squid sounds so weird, at least to a hungry passer-by. Here it is. Choose straight and not-too-big lotus roots, clean them, remove the skin then cut into slices as thick as half of a phalanx. Front trotters are a must because they are hard and smell good. After being washed, they are soaked in boiling water then again in cool water and drained. Dried squids are not necessarily very big, about 3 fingers wide, but they must be thick and coated by a thin layer of white powder. A lump of rock sugar is needed too.

Put a pot on the fire and fry some shallot, add in trotters with some seasoning powder and stir-fry until the meat becomes hard. Dried squids are used whole or torn into two or three fragments or you can make a checked pattern on the squids with a knife instead. Add squid and lotus root. While waiting for the ingredients to absorb spices, pick a small piece of ginger, wash it well, quickly remove the skin then flatten it with a knife and throw it into the pot.

Wait until the oil boils again then flood the ingredients with water and turn up the fire. When it get boiled, add spices to your taste then turn down the fire and cover the pot with a lid, but before that, do not forget the glittering lump of rock sugar waiting to devote itself together with lotus roots, trotters and fried squids.

While waiting for lotus roots and trotters to get soft but not crushed, for dried squid to secrete its juice accumulated during days in the sea, walk leisurely to the garden and pick some cilantro grown in barren soil with leaves, the little finger the longest, but it gives a good aroma when crushed. Wash then cut them in half. When the soup is ready, pour it into a bowl, drop in some cilantro and arrange it next to the hot rice pot together with a small bowl of fish sauce with red and green chili.

At that time, just watching the diner slurping the sweet lotus root soup, chewing fatty trotters and listening to the sounds of people chewing dried squid make the cook nod with satisfaction.

At the moment you can buy lotus roots at the market at the price of VND 30.000/kg, enough for a family of 4 members to eat three or four times. Trotters are always available and so are dried squids. The question is the lotus season is drawing to an end. Once in a blue moon, people in Vinh Thanh, Phu Loc, Phong Dien bring to the market some baskets of lotus roots. Let’s buy, cook and enjoy soon. If not, just in some days, what you will get is the shake of head asking you to wait until the next year.

 Story and photo: Le Trang