Moss grilled in a banana leaf. (Photo: Nguyen Minh Chuyen)
River moss, a special freshwater version of kelp, is used by the Thai and Tay ethnic people in northern Vietnam’s mountainous areas as a delicacy, often appearing in huge banquets cooked for guests at important events like weddings or house-warming parties.
Tay people classify edible moss into three types. The most common is called “que“, which has a great length and hard green stems, often found in flowing streams. The other, “que nhao“, is shorter and thinner with a lime green color and the last, “que tau” grows in calm and rather flat waters, and has a velvety texture.
As simple as it might look, even an experienced moss collector has to pay attention while traversing slippery rocks in cold streams. Normally, one would gather the moss in an upstream direction so it can be effortlessly washed of dirt.
The moss is then rinsed with water again, squeezed and left to dry on a smooth rocky surface. The last phase of preparation is to soften the moss by hitting it with a rock or pestle. In Tay ethnic culture, only the women collect moss.
Dishes vary depending on the type of moss. The most popular delicacy is “que chi“. Moss combined with herbal spices like lemongrass and lime leaf is wrapped in a banana leaf to be grilled later on charcoal. It is eaten with a fish sauce and lime juice dipping.
“Que chi” gives out a strong and unique smell attracting anyone passing by.
The moss can be stir-fried with minced pork and finely chopped lemongrass. The softer types of moss, “que nhao” and “que tau” are suitable as soup ingredients.
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