First published March 2015 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle
Anyone who’s spent time in Vietnam’s highlands will have come across rượu nếp – rice wine. Made from fermented sticky rice, this is the liquor of choice for most Vietnamese who live at high altitudes or in the northern provinces, where winters can be bitterly cold. However, on my last visit to Cao Bang, in northeastern Vietnam, I was introduced to rượu nếp in its pure, non-liquid form: Rượu nếp hấp trứng is fermented glutinous rice mixed together with a chicken’s egg and then steamed to create a mildly alcoholic rice pudding.
Eaten on cold mornings as a dessert after a bowl of noodle soup, locals say it keeps the body warm and helps fight bad bacteria in the stomach. I had my first Vietnamese ‘hot toddy’ at a soup house in Cao Bang City. Crammed with local officials and families hunched over steaming bowls of noodle soup, all the customers – including the children – ordered a bowl of rượu nếp hấp trứng before leaving.
Dyed yellow from the egg yolk, this rice wine pudding has a rich, earthy, and slightly acrid aroma. The texture is smooth and lumpy, like the custard served at school dinners in primary school. The taste is sweet and rich, with a sharp alcoholic tang that seems to bite at your tongue. It won’t become a staple of mine, but on those cold, misty mornings in the mountains, I’ll trust a bowl of rượu nếp hấp tứng to warm me up and keep the germs at bay. This particular bowl is served at a classic ‘no-name’ soup house in Cao Bang City: behind the market, between numbers 2 and 6 on Hồng Việt Street [MAP]
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