Story: Nguyet Anh
Photos: Thai Bich Thuan, Mai Thanh Chuong, Le Trong Khang

Visitors to Dong Phu Town in Quang Nam province should sample cassava phở, a unique local delicacy

Just the name leaves us curious. Anyone familiar with phở – delicious soft white rice noodles served in broth – has trouble imagining these noodles made with cassava. But no visit to Dong Phu Town in Que Son District of Quang Nam province is complete without trying this unique dish.

Local elders told me that Que Son cassava phở was developed in the early 1960s, when a lot of cassava was planted. At the time there was a famine, so locals ate cassava instead of rice. They used this year-round crop to make cassava phở, which is now recognized as a local delicacy.

Preparing cassava phở requires great skill and time. The cooks who prepare and sell this local specialty start work before dawn.

  It starts with the starch: the cassava is peeled and ground into a fine flour. The flour is soaked in water in the proportion of 60 liters of water for 14kg of flour and stirred evenly. The water is poured off after one hour and replaced with fresh water. The starch must be stirred repeatedly. The cassava starch is soaked for two days and two nights to make it white, tasty and free of odors.

 Cooking the starch is important: water is mixed with the starch and cooked for 20 minutes. The cook must keep the heat consistent, stirring regularly to ensure the starch is not scorched. The cooked starch can now be used to make snacks with fish sauce or sugar. The starch is poured into a small pot, evenly stirred and put through a grinder. White strands of cassava phở are made with this grinder.

The last step is drying, with the phở strands spread evenly on rectangular bamboo racks that are neatly arranged on prepared stakes. The locals take advantage of sunny days to dry the strands of cassava phở quickly, ensuring they will be crunchy and transparent.

  While cassava phở is used to make many dishes, the best one is cassava phở with snakehead fish. First the phở is crumbled into pieces, soaked in cold water for three minutes, put into a filter, left to dry and presented in a bowl. Washed snakehead fish is sliced and marinated with spices, while the bones are pounded to make broth. The fried fish is served with herbs like thinly sliced banana trunk, basil, cilantro and mugwort leaves. Other additions include pounded roasted peanuts, lemon extract and fish sauce with chili and garlic.

Diners can’t get enough of the chewy, buttery strands of phở, sweet homegrown snakehead fish, aromatic herbs, spicy green chili and rich roasted peanuts. The mix of flavors is unusual and delicious.

Traveling to Que Son, be sure to sample this rustic dish, which demonstrates the diligence, skill and dedication of the locals.