In and around Sa Pa we were seeing these tree branches set up in prominent places along the streets and particularly around Quang Truong Square.It became apparent that people were buying these "tree branches" and walking off with them or transporting them on bikes or motorbikes or anyhow they could be moved.
This was the first time in our South to North journey of Vietnam that we witnessed this and we were left scratching our heads.
What we learned was that the Peach Tree blossom is used to decorate the houses of peoples homes as a part of the celebration of Tet..or Chinese New Year.The colorful blossoms add to the nature of the celebration...maybe sort of like " Christmas" lights of Western culture.
Traditionally the color of the blooms symbolizes the end of Winter and the beginning of Spring.The blooms bring "good luck" to peoples homes and happiness.Unfortunately we didn't get to see the branches in full bloom but I can imagine that it would be quite spectacular.
Anyhow...if you're visiting during Tet or close to the arrival of Tet you'll see this and NOW you'll know..they're EVERYWHERE...
Hmong men and women in Sapa wear dark-blue, almost black clothing. The clothing are dyed with indigo, and indigo fields are a common sight in the village. The Hmong dye the clothing themself, and that explains why most of the women we ran into have darker than usual hands! Thanks to the colouring from the indigo.
The women and girls wear indigo turbans, skirts, vests, leggings and may big silver hoop earings (Bigger earings means they are married). Men wear baggy shirts and trousers and a long vest, as well as silver and bronze necklaces.
Sapa is not only famous for its natural beauty and landscapes, cool and fresh air, Sapa is best known for specialties. Sapa cuisine mirrors the country’s cultural and ethnic diversity. Its main characteristic is the systematic use of fresh, light products, mainly tropical or temperate fruit and vegetables. It offers a wide variety of foods ranging from meats, crustaceans and fish to delicious vegetarian specialties accompanied with all sorts of vegetables, herbs, spices and sauces.
1. Field mushroom
Going anywhere in Sapa, you are also invited to buy field mushroom- a specialties of Sapa’ mountains and forests.At any restaurants in Sapa, you can easily enjoy this kind of food. After soaking in water, these field mushrooms still keep the taste of mountainous land and flavor of forest trees.
If you are gastronomic, you should choose “mushroom foot”. This is a mix of body of mushroom, meat, dried cuttlefish and some spices. You can eat it with many kinds of vegetables here. I must sure that if you have once time to try this food, you never forget it as well as never forget Sapa.
2. Seven color steamed glutinous rice
Steamed glutinous rice with seven colors is called “xoi bay mau” in Vietnam; it is a traditional dish in festivals of Nung Din ethnic in Muong Khuong province (Lao Cai). This dish has seven colors such as pink, vermilion, scarlet, bright green, yellow green, banana leaf green and yellow and especially these colors is made from natural tree so you can totally feel secure when eating it. On the first of July every year, Nung Din people usually hold festival to celebrate a victory. In the festival, steamed glutinous rice with seven colors is always displayed as an indispensable food. Moreover, in the concept of Nung Nin people, eating the steamed glutinous rice with seven colors will get lucky and good things. This dish is the pride of Nung Din women because it expresses their ingenuity and skill.
3. Carried under arm pig”-”lợn cắp nách”.
Sapa is well-known for its dishes of “lon cap nach”, which symbolizes
the image of local people tucking their pigs under their arms as they bring them to the market for sale. Its meat can be steamed, boiled, baked, stewed, and the taste is very delicious.
This kind of food is so well-known that many luxury restaurants use it for their big parties or many people use it in their meeting occasions at the end of year or on holidays.
4. Vegetables in Sapa.
Sapa specialties such as white and green cauliflower, red beetroot, and chayote squash thrive in Sapa’s temperate climate. Tens of thousands of Sapa’s chayotes are distributed nationwide each year.
While many of Sapa’s vegetables are sold throughout the country, the
more delicate and most tasty varieties are only available in the markets of Sapa. One example of this is “ngong”, the local word for the budded stems of old and stunted vegetables. There are many kinds of ngong, such as the stems of garlic, cabbage, kohlrabi, and chayote. Ngong is best served fried with garlic or various kinds of meat.
5. Brook fishs
Sapa residents are also very fond of their fish. One type called brook
fish, because they are residents of the areas mountainous streams or brooks. Brook fish are various in types from white fattened-body fish such as ditch fish, goby to the fish whose color is mixed BETWEEN black and stone moss color.
Sapa brook fish are usually not big, just equal to an adult finger, or a knife handle as the biggest. The most special secret is that these brook fish has no fishy flavor. Once catched, fish are often grilled on coal immediately at the stream in order to store or bring to restaurants in town for sale. After being grilled, fish’s head, tail and fins are very crisp while the fish’s round body still maintains the fiber muscles-unique characteristics only for such mountainous species.
6. Cat cider in Sapa
Cat apple tree grows wild very much on the Hoang Lien Son mountain range in Sapa Vietnam. People soaked cat apple into a kind of brown liquor and sweet aromatic characteristics. This alcohol is rural but original. It is made from a kind of apple (cat apple) which only grows in forests where are sunny, windy. Therefore, this apple absorbs tastes of sky, taste of land, taste of mountains; and it contains four tastes sour, sweet, bitter, acrid. Cat drinking cider initially felt like drinking carbonated soft drinks, but more and more taking ecstasy.
7. Thang Co
Thang Co is created by Hmong people in Vietnam, Someone tried to explain the word by Chinese-Vietnamese pronunciation - Thang Co means soup of bones.The dish is traditionally made from horse meat, including almost all the offal such as intestines, liver, and kidneys, but beef and pork may also be used.The meat and offal are cut into small pieces and mixed with special spices that are popular with the Mong people. Then all the ingredients are poured in a big pot of water and simmered over a fire for a long time.
8. “Lam” rice ( Bamboo cooked rice)
"Lam" rice (or Bamboo Cooked Rice) is a typical dish of ethnic minorities in mountainous area of Northern Vietnam.
Originally, “lam” rice was invented as a kind of food for long journey in the forests. Upon the journey, Vietnamese ethnic people can cook rice in a bamboo pipe instead of a pot. By the time passed, “lam” rice has become popular, and is preferred as impressive blend of rice, stream water and slight scent of bamboo.
“Lam” rice is made from sticky rice which is grown on the hills. Sticky rice is put in a bamboo pipe and added some water. For more delicious taste, ethnic people usually use stream water and add some salt in. The bamboo pipe then will be sealed up by banana leaves and roasted above red coals or hot fire. That process will be done within about 30 minutes.
“Lam” rice is served with grilled chicken or grilled Man pork. Some sesame and salt are indispensible while eating this dish. Let try fine and hot “lam” rice in cold weather of Sapa once in your life!
9. Salmon in Sapa
Such fish which live only in cold regions like America or Europe have been imported but only successfully adopted in Sapa. With bold taste, pretty pink meat, high nutritional ingredients, salmon is one of the most luxurious dishes for tourists coming to Sapa - Lao Cai. Sometimes, salmon is not only delicious by its taste, but also attractive by the thought and curiosity of tasting it once. With a cool climate all year round and a cold winter even with snow covers, Sapa salmon is blessed to have flesh meat, firm muscles and no grease which is suitable for processing many different dishes. The most prominent are salmon hot pots, salmon salads and grilled salmon ... In the cold of Sapa, with a cup of wild cat apple wine, enjoying a full-of-smoke salmon hot pot together with early-foggy-covered wild vegetables will be surely an unforgettable moment for visitors.
10. Khang Gai Dried Meat
The meat of horses, pigs are usually hung up by the H’Mong. These meat will be chopped into pieces about 2-3 kilograms and hung up in order to store. When eating meat, they will clean dust and cook with tomatoes, bamboo shoots… Dried meat is fleshy, fragrant and crispy.
The Black Hmong are by far the largest ethnic minority group in and around Sapa and you'll see them walking between Sapa and the surrounding villages. In Sapa, you'll see them playing in the square in front of the church and along the main tourist road buying large sticks of sugarcane which they particularly like to chew on as a snack like we would a chocolate bar back home. They're called Black Hmong due to the colour of the clothing they wear which is actually hemp that's dyed violet from a plant that grows locally. The dye stains the hands and transfers to their faces which gives them a rather dirty look. When I was in Sapa at the end of January, I was told that they were dressed in either their best or new clothes in order to attract a mate. Young girls were checking out the boys playing on a huge swing in the square. Girls as young as ten years old can get married and often have two children by the time they are 20 years old. This is especially the case for the more beautiful ones.
If you decide to do an organised trek, expect to have several girls and women tagging along with you. A few of them started chatting me up on my trek and a young French girl came over to rescue me by claiming that I was hers!
The Red Dzao are, probably, the second largest ethnic minority group, here. You'll see them selling textiles along the main tourist street and around the towns square. They have distinctive red head-dresses which, supposedly, determine how rich they are depending on size. They have a more Chinese look about them with plucked or shaved eyebrows and foreheads.
Young Red Dzao used to come to Sapa to sing songs to the opposite sex. Girls sang the songs hidden in the dark, when a boy found them, and if they matched together, they disappeared into the forest for three days. Some of them got married after that. Currently you may spot some young locals singing in the dark, but they are not looking for a partner, they are looking for you. They will sing a song, and ask for a tip afterwards.
Around the market entrance on the main tourist road, Cau May, you'll find children buying large sticks of sugarcane which they particularly like to chew on as a snack like we would a chocolate bar back home.
When I was in Sapa at the end of January, I was told that they were dressed in either their best or new clothes in order to attract a mate. Young girls were checking out the boys playing on a huge swing in the square. Girls as young as ten years old can get married and often have two children by the time they are 20 years old. This is especially the case for the more beautiful ones.
The Flower Hmong are like a rare type of tropical bird - pretty, colourful but hard to find. I only saw two during my stay in Sapa. One was in the towns market while another, a young girl, sat down next to me on the street and was having her photo taken every couple of minutes by tourists as she was wearing a very colourful head-dress.
If you decide to do a trek through some of the local villages, you'll encounter some amazing rural life. We walked through the village of Lau Chai with Red Dzao women past pigs, ducks, buffalo and some lovely wooden houses.
We stayed with a Zay family at our overnight home stay in the village of Ta Van. We got to their home stay where our beds were upstairs on the floor while they cooked our evening meal on a small open fire in the kitchen area. The food was fantastic - chicken and mushrooms, pork and mushrooms, chips!, rice and spring rolls. We also visited a second Zay home in the village.
The Tay are closely related to the Nung and the Zhuang on the Chinese side of the Vietnamese-Chinese border, and more distantly to the Thai people of Thailand and the Dai people of China.