Sick-day recipes. Photo by Julie Vola

Honey and lemon with a dram of whiskey; camomile tea; home made cough remedies. The list of western DIY cures goes on. But what happens when you’re sick in Vietnam? Vu Ha Kim Vy and Huyen Tran come up with eight recipes to keep you in good health. Photos by Julie Vola and Francis Xavier.

 

There’s no science or chemistry involved, but DIY cures to help you when you’re sick have been passed down from generation to generation. Like chicken soup or ginger tea, Vietnam has its very own collection. So, with the help of two of our writers, we travel from north to south in search of the miracle cure.

 


 

Vu Ha Kim Vy

 

I spent a few months in Australia and missed home. The feeling was worse when I was sick and my mother was not around. Under the comfort of a warm blanket, I would recall the aroma of mung bean porridge for when I got a fever or the bittersweet taste of kumquats steamed with rock sugar for when I got a sore throat.

 

Here are some recipes used in southern Vietnam. They may not only help you with your health, but they may also remind of you of a time when life was just that much more simple.

 

Kumquat Steamed with Rock Sugar

Tac nau duong phen

Kumquats. Photo by Francis Xavier 

A sore throat can be the first sign of a cold, the side effect of strained vocal cords, or an indication of something more serious. Regardless of the cause, my mother always uses kumquats to relieve the pain and clear her children’s throats.

 

How to make it

Slice three or four ripe kumquats in half, take the seeds out, and then soak them in a small bowl of water with rock sugar. The amount of rock sugar depends on how sweet you want the medicine to be. Turn your stove on and steam the bowl in a pot with a little of water for 20 minutes, or until the kumquat skin turns yellow. Best served warm. You can take this remedy twice a day for three days. It really helps.

 

Aloe Vera Dessert

Che nha dam

Aloe vera. Photo by Francis Xavier 

Vietnamese foods are usually divided into hot or cold types. But we’re not talking about temperature. Rather, each food has different properties to help balance your yin and yang. Mouth ulcers are believed to occur when the yin of your body is much higher than the yang. One of my mother’s solutions for balancing the system was to consume foods categorised as cold: for her, aloe vera was always a good choice.

 

How to make it

Peel off the skin of the aloe vera to get the transparent flesh inside. Dice it into cubes then rinse twice with normal water and salt water to get rid of the sticky liquid. Boil a pot of water, then put all the aloe vera in the boiling water, and wait until it boils again. Add as much sugar as you wish and for extra flavour, vanilla extract. Best served cold, you can replace your daily water intake with this dessert.

 

Coconut Water

Nuoc dua

Coconut. Photo by Kyle Phanroy 

If you are curious enough, Wikipedia will give you a table of all the properties contained in coconut water, including a list of proteins, vitamins and minerals. My mother doesn’t know such things. All she did is force me to drink it if I ever got diarrhoea.

 

How to make it

Mix a pinch of salt with a glass of coconut water. Drink this twice a day to get the relief you are looking for.

 

Turmeric and Honey Paste

Bot nghe tron mat ong

Turmeric. Photo by Francis Xavier 

Turmeric root is commonly used in Vietnam for fading scars formed by open wounds, as well as stomach and menstrual problems. At my house, an area in the garden has been set aside for cultivating turmeric; my mother is usually seen slicing and sun-drying the roots.

 

How to make it

For fading scars, apply chopped turmeric root on healing wounds several times a day until the wounds completely disappear.

 

For stomach and menstrual problems, slice and sun-dry the sliced turmeric root and then grind the sun-dried slices into powder. Mix the powder with honey until the mixture becomes a paste. Take a tablespoon of the paste before every meal. Be patient, this treatment can take three to four months to become fully effective.

 


 

Huyen Tran

 

Detoxification diets are so popular in Vietnam that detox recipes have become one of the most talked-about topics among female netizens. Yet, long before the detoxification regimen arrived, Vietnamese home cooks were already using traditional ingredients to help eliminate toxins in their body.

 

Below are some of the mother’s recipes that are commonly used in most families in the North, way before the ‘detox trend’ came to Vietnam.

 

Mung Bean porridge

Chao dau xanh

Mung Bean. Photo by Julie Vola 

Cultivated in the summer, mung bean is popular throughout Northern Vietnam. Loaded with nutritious benefits, these miracle pulses are used to cook xoi or sticky rice, and different kinds of traditional cakes.

 

However, it’s mung bean porridge that is used as the miracle cure, something fed to people when they feel under the weather. It’s nutritious, easy to digest and perfect for those low on energy thanks to its slow release of carbohydrates. As a result of the natural fibre in the beans, it’s also used for anyone with sluggish bowels. The miracle cure is often consumed to get rid of hangovers thanks to its ability to clear the body of toxins and unwanted chemicals.

 

How to make it

Take a cup of mung beans and the same amount of sticky rice. Add water and simmer gently for about half an hour or until the rice has disintegrated. Depending on how thick you prefer the porridge, add water. When ready, eat either with sugar or salt.

 

Bitter Melon Soup

Canh muop dang

Bitter Melon. Photo by Julie Vola 

A member of the squash family, bitter melon is a popular culinary vegetable. Called muop dang in the North, bitter melon is known for its high nutrient content. A number of health claims are attached to this vegetable. These include:

 

— a remedy for diabetes

— treatment for blood disorders

— a good source of fibre for strengthening the immune system and increasing the body’s power to fight against infection

 

Yet, not everyone loves muop dang. Some people despise its bitterness, even when its taste is watered down in soup form. Regardless, once the vegetable is blanched and its core sliced out, and perhaps served up with pork or tofu, even for the haters it is much more palatable.

 

How to make it

Blanch the muop dang in boiling water for about one minute. Remove and allow to cool down. Then, slice the melon into 1 to 1.5 inch pieces. Take out the pith and seeds, and stuff the melons with pork filling. The pork filling is often comprised of ground pork, onion and mushroom, which should be seasoned before being put into melon. Simmer for 15 to 30 minutes until the bitter melons are fork-tender. Add salt and sugar to taste.

 

Green Tea

Tra xanh

Green Tea. Photo by Julie Vola 

The drinking of green tea is both a sophisticated art and yet something so simple there are tea stands on almost every street. Loaded with antioxidants and nutrients, green tea helps strengthen the body’s resistance to infection.

 

How to make it

White-collar workers who don’t have time to prepare green tea at home simply put the tealeaves in a bottle and add just-below-boiling-point water. Wait for a few minutes and bang. Your (almost) perfect cup of tea.

 

Pennywort juice

Nuoc rau ma

Pennywort. Photo by Julie Vola 

Found almost everywhere in the countryside, Vietnamese pennywort or rau ma is a member of the dill family and has numerous health benefits, including maintaining youthfulness, purifying the blood, curing nervous conditions, improving eyesight and memory, and relieving arthritic pain.

 

Made into a drink, rau ma tastes similar to cucumber water, only fresher. In the past, when there was no such thing as a blender, Vietnamese home cooks used a mortar and pestle to ground pennywort by hand, adding a specific amount of water to make it into a shake. Now, you can make this drink in the blink of an eye, adding sugar or not as you prefer.

 

The Word

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