Life Life

06/10/2017 - 08:58

Thanh tra grapefruit in early Autumn

Early Autumn is when thanh tra is at its best, why not go find some dried squids and shrimps, then grill them on a charcoal fire?

Dried squid mixed with thanh tra looks more tempting in a bowl made of the fruit peel.

Every year around September (i.e. August, according to Lunar calendar), thanh tra, a kind of grapefruit, is in season. When it is turning Autumn, Hue people have the habit of finding some thanh tra to enjoy their fine taste. Inside the thick yellowish-green peel lie juicy yellowish-white sections which are a combination of flavors: crisp and tender, sweet and a bit sour. With these grapefruits, women in Nguyet Bieu, with their clever hands, can make a variety of dishes. The dishes with thanh tra are simple to prepare, but are usually given very "royal" names: Thanh tra Tu vi and Thanh tra Luc bao for instance. Thanh tra Tu vi (Four Tastes of Thanh Tra) includes four different dishes: thanh tra simmered with chili, chicken steamed with thanh tra, shrimp grilled with thanh tra and pork rib stewed with thanh tra. Thanh tra Luc bao (Six Precious Dishes with Thanh tra) includes: fermented pork with thanh tra, spring rolls with thanh tra, tapioca pearl soup with thanh tra, thanh tra noodles, dried squid mixed with thanh tra and thanh tra wine. After tasting all those 10 dishes, diners should linger to enjoy the two special sweet dishes named Thanh tra Nhi huong (Two Flavors of Thanh tra): thanh tra jam and che thanh tra (thanh tra in syrup).

Thanh tra is a rural specialty of Thuy Bieu Village by the Perfume River but why dishes made with it often have royal flavors is understandable. From the imperial court, the dishes followed the chefs back to the village with their names and the way they had been served in the court.

Among above-mentioned dishes, the "grilling set" perfectly suits early Autumn days. Grilled shrimp with thanh tra is an example. To make this dish, it is necessary to have living shrimps. The grapefruit is peeled and the flesh is separated. Slice the peelings into pieces; mix them with some salt and chilli; then pour in the shrimps and let them rest for a while. After that, alternately skewer the shrimps and the peel pieces, then grill them on a charcoal fire. The fragrance of burnt grapefruit peel combining with the smell of grilled shrimp and the smell of smoke pervades the kitchen. Grilled shrimps are then displayed on a plate together with juicy thanh tra, decorated with some tender leaves. Who can resist such a dish?

Again, on a cool day in Autumn, tasting shrimp while sipping wine made from thanh tra is more than reasonable. To make thanh tra wine, you must choose the right fruits, take off the peel then dry it in the sun. Fry the dried peel in a hot pan until brown; leave it to rest on the ground for a while then soak it in rice wine. Separate the flesh of the grapefruit; leave it to ferment for two months then squeeze it to get the juice and mix the juice with the wine. The citrus juice and the essential oil from the peel blend together, creating an extremely original kind of wine. 

That cup of wine goes well with another special dish: dried squid mixed with thanh tra. Squids from Thuan An or Tu Dung taste betterthan from other places. Dried squid grilled on a charcoal fire will taste tough and smell good. When taking the peel off the fruit, remember to carve it into a bowl as the container for the food later. Grilled squid is torn into fine threads then blend them with thanh tra; pour in some fish sauce with chili and garlic. So simple; the well-known dish is ready. Tasting this dish, one can figure out how heaven and earth meet and how sea and land reconcile.

For many Hue people living far away from home, among the memories, the memory of dried squid mixed with thanh tra always arises when Autumn is approaching.

Thanh tra grapefruit is now grown not only in Thuy Bieu, but in many other places as well such as Tuan, Huong Van, Kim Long, Phong Thu, etc. So it is no need to go to as far as Thuy Bieu to buy thanh tra as before. Early Autumn is when thanh tra is at its best, why not go find some dried squids and shrimps, then grill them on a charcoal fire?