Cured Smoked Buffalo – Thịt Trâu Gác Bếp
The specialty of Điện Biên Phủ
Việtnam’s north-western area is a magnificent mix of alpine vistas, ethnic culture, and crisp mountain air.
This region attracts visitors not just because of its beautiful environment and colourful hill tribes, but also because of its unique and tasty cuisine. Smoked cured buffalo, is a popular delicacy in the provinces of Sơn La, Lai Châu, Yên Bái, and Lào Cai. “Thịt trâu gác bếp” is the Việtnamese name for it. The closest Western equivalent would be beef jerky.
When ethnic minority groups kill buffalo for ritual purposes, some of the meat is used to make “thịt trâu gác bếp”.
Making cured smoked buffalo is a straightforward process. Large slices of beef are marinated in a marinade of salt, chilli powder, spice mix, ginger, garlic, and Mac Khen, a native wild pepper. Mac Khen is a forest pepper that is related to the Szechuan pepper. Mac khen is less numbing and more bitter than Szechuan peppercorns, with a floral, woody, sweet, and fragrant flavour. Its distinct flavour profile has made it a cooking staple throughout north-western Vietnam and the Central Highlands.
After the meat has been marinated, it will be hung and cured over the kitchen stoves until absolutely dry and slightly firm. It will take 8-12 months to complete the curing, smoking and drying process before it is ready to serve. The buffalo meat is carefully dried by cooking smoke, which gives it a deep brown colour while keeping the crimson colour of the insides and deepening its characteristic fermented flavour. This process of dry curing brings out “umami” and intensifies everything good about the meat.
The procedure was developed in ancient times to extend the shelf life of meat and preserve food during the rainy season when food is scarce and difficult to come by. It is now commonly made to treat guests or to use for special occasions such as the New Year Festival or a wedding.