Farmer master chefs reveal the colourful diversity of food
A cooking competition was held in Ky Son Commune, north-central Vietnam, with 27 male farmers. The competition was organized by the World Agroforestry Centre Vietnam and partners to raise awareness of climate-smart agriculture.
Gordon Ramsey had better come to Vietnam and take a look because there is more than ‘phở’ and spring rolls to Vietnamese cuisine. At a cooking competition organised in Ky Son commune in north-central Vietnam, over 70 dishes, including desserts, were presented; none of which included noodle soup or spring roll.
Twenty-seven men, all full-time or part-time farmers, from eight villages and the Youth Union took the opportunity to showcase their colourful dishes. Included in the criteria was the use of local and nutritious products. The menus highlighted the role of agroforestry.
Together with school girls who were performing at the event, we quickly talked through which colour indicated nutrients that were good for particular body functions. How often the people consumed a particular colour of vegetable or fruit might reflect the diversity available in the villages.
‘We eat green almost every day’, they agreed. ‘But purple… not often’.
Here were some of the colours of the dishes entered in the cooking competition.
Green is, by far, the most abundant colour of local fruit and vegetables all year round. Among the green dishes were wild fern fried with garlic, bitter gourd stuffed with pork meat then sliced with a shrimp on top, chayote (Sechium edule), cucumber, numerous herbs, sprouts and leafy vegetables and even sweet potato leaves, beans, lime leaves and lemon grass. Two agroforestry kings were also common ingredients: home-grown, black pepper sprinkled over some dishes and fresh green tea.
White and brown: These colours are available all year round but many are not local, for example, white cabbage, onion and Irish potato were used as ingredients but are not grown in the commune. Local longan (Dimocarpus longan), winter melon (Benincasa hispida), white eggplant, sweet potato and garlic were served. Although peanut and cassava are major products in the commune, nobody used cassava. Rice was served with all dishes. Some even had crispy rice cakes with their meals. Bamboo shoots were boiled and cooked with chicken in a stand-alone dish.
‘We chose bamboo as an ingredient because it is easy for men to bring home when they work in the forests’, said Mr Toan from the My Lac team. ‘Bamboo is also good for shielding against wind and controlling the soil’.
Yellow and orange: Yellow and orange are common but many are seasonal fruit and vegetables. Besides the beautiful flowers cut from carrots (which are not grown in the province), we found jackfruit salad, a wide range of pumpkin dishes and spices like ginger and lime. For dessert, the farmers brought mango, persimmon, local orange and forest banana.
Red: The two popular reds were chili fruits cut as decorative flowers and tomato sauce, which is cooked with red tilapia.
Purple: We found three sources of purple: cabbage for salad; eggplant; and the local sweet potato boiled or, as in my favourite dish, a deep-fried white and purple sweet potato patty.
Looking at the ingredients in the cooking competition gave us a better idea of what people grow than any previous household survey, focus-group discussion or visit to the market. Everybody may not grow everything but planting material and local knowledge are readily available.
‘Knowing the diversity of the available fruit and vegetables is important for planning new vegetable gardens, which will support lunches for kindergarten and primary-school children’, said Elisabeth Simelton, the team leader of the World Agroforestry Centre’s (ICRAF) climate-smart village project.
The cooking competition was organized by ICRAF Vietnam, Ky Son Youth Union and climate-smart village partners on 18 October to recognize World Food Day and Vietnamese Women’s Day. The competition aimed to raise awareness of climate-smart agriculture among people beyond the climate-smart village itself.
‘We are preparing the menus and some signature dishes from each team for wider sharing’, said Hai Van Le, the ICRAF’s community organizer in the climate-smart village. ‘Maybe Chef Ramsey will get one too…’
Climate-smart villages are part of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security. In Ky Son commune, ICRAF Vietnam coordinates research in the My Loi climate-smart village, one of six under the Research Program in Southeast Asia.
Read about and watch Vietnamese TV on the climate-smart village (Tiếng Việt)