Story: Tran Mai Phuong
Photos: Luk Lak Vietnamese Cuisine

In early July, a fresh and pervasive scent wafts down from the forests and mountains in Lang Son province. It is the aroma of “mac mat” fruit (Clausena indica), which means “sweet fruit” in the Tay-Nung language. “Mac mat” fruit are slightly peppery with a bitter taste like grapefruit peel. Whether fresh or dried, this fruit adds a delicious taste to meat and fish dishes.

Bass grilled with “mac mat” sauce

Unlike most river fish, bass live in brackish water. This living environment makes their meat tough and firm. The translucent flesh of fresh “mac mat” fruit looks like jelly and is blended with salt. Its seeds and peels are slowly grilled until they turn golden and dry, then finely ground. The fish is marinated with all of these ingredients and grilled over a fire. The fish is served with hot cooked rice or with tangled rice vermicelli and sweet-and-sour “mac mat” sauce.

Pork Ribs Grilled With “Mac Mat” Fruit

Thick and fatty chopped ribs are used for this dish as lard absorbs and retains the fruit’s aroma. The ribs are marinated overnight in a mix of “mac mat” fruit and spices, then slowly grilled over charcoal. The dish boasts a unique floral aroma from the “mac mat” fruit, the fatty taste of the ribs, and a smoky smell from the charcoal. It is delicious with a handful of mouth-watering sticky rice.

Well-Stewed Pork With “Mac Mat” Fruit

“Khau nhuc” is a dish of well-stewed pork that originated from Guangdong (China). The recipe was introduced into Vietnam by Tay and Nung people in Lang Son province. Over time, it has become Vietnamese thanks to the use of local spices.  The skin and lard of pork chops are carefully pricked using a sharp skewer to make the meat more tender. After that, the pork is roasted over a fire until the skin puffs up and turns crispy. The pork steak is seasoned with mixed spices and fresh whole “mac mat” fruit. The meat and fruit are stewed in a pot until well-done. Remember to sprinkle freshly ground pepper over the dish when it is served with hot rice.