Dracontomelons and lotus – summer specialties in Hanoi

Dinh Chau
Chia sẻ
(VOVWORLD) - Dracontomelons are quite common in northern Vietnam but nowhere has presented it in local cuisines like Hanoi.
The dracontomelon season in Hanoi often lasts between June and September. But as early as April, the white dracontomelon flowers start to bloom, emitting a mild fragrance and embellishing the exuberant green canopy in downtown Hanoi. The blossom of dracontomelon flowers brings up fond memories for many Hanoians. 
Dracontomelons and lotus – summer specialties in Hanoi - ảnh 1Dracontomelons trees change their leaves when summer comes. (Photo: VOV)

One recalled, “When it comes to dracontomelon, Hanoi is the very first city that comes into my mind. It’s what I remember the most when I live far away from this capital city.”

Another added, “I love the cityscape in the dracontomelon season. The streets look dreamy when summer looms as the leaves change their color to green and the fallen yellow leaves carpet the pavement underneath. I also find it ravishing when dracontomelon flowers bloom in white.”

“How fabulous it is when the white flowers blanket the sidewalks. They have a distinctive scent that I, myself, call it ‘the scent of Hanoi streets’,” said a Hanoi woman.

When summer hits Hanoi, street vendors selling dracontomelons are everywhere, mostly on Tran Hung Dao, Phan Dinh Phung, Tran Phu, Ly Thai To, and Le Thanh Tong, which are shaded by rows of dracontomelon trees on both sides. They sit on the sidewalk and sell freshly harvested fruits to commuters.

Dracontomelons and lotus – summer specialties in Hanoi - ảnh 2Rows of dracontomelons trees cast their shade onto streets in downtown Hanoi. (Photo: VOV)

At a corner on Phan Dinh Phung street, Le Van Huy and his two friends climb up the trees, pick the fruit, and then sell it on spot or to traders in the wet markets.

“We only have two months to do it when the dracontomelons are young. We sell them in the wet markets all around Hanoi,” said Huy.

Dracontomelons and lotus – summer specialties in Hanoi - ảnh 3Le Van Huy picks dracontomelons on Phan Dinh Phung street. (Photo: VOV)

The group has picked dracontomelons for so long that they know where to find the most abundant, youngest fruits by heart. According to Nguyen Huy Duong, there are so many passers-by waiting for them to pick the fruit and buy it all. Dracontomelons elsewhere are transported to Hanoi for trading but none of them can beat the flavor of dracontomelons grown originally in Hanoi, said Duong.

“Hanoi dracontomelons are a bit sourer and have better flavor. They have a thick, crunchy flesh,” Duong added.

Dracontomelons are a common spice in the daily meals of Hanoians. We talked to Nguyen Thi Ha of Hoan Kiem district, who had just bought three kilograms of dracontomelons, which are so fresh that the fruits still have sap at the stem. 

“Dracontomelons in Hanoi have thin skin, small seeds, and thick flesh. Its sourness is really pleasant,” said Ha.

Tran Thi Lan of Hai Ba Trung district said dracontonmelons are used in a bunch of soups. Actually, there are many kinds of fruits and herbs that are able to produce the sourness but dracontomelons are a top choice, according to Lan.

“The easiest recipe for a summer soup is boiling dracontomelons in morning glory water. And the morning glory is dipped in fish sauce mixed with boiled dracontomelons. We don’t use vinegar. I also like to use dracontomelons to braise duck,” she added.

Nguyen Thuy Linh of Dong Da district said, “Dracontomelons awaken all my senses. Every time I eat Hanoi dishes using dracontomelons, I feel like the summer is inside me. The fruit is truly something to remember.”

Dracontomelons can be soaked in sugar and shredded ginger until they produce a brown syrup, which is then mixed with water and ice into a ubiquitous street drink. Or dracontomelons are made into “o mai” (dried sugar coated fruits), an iconic snack and souvenir in Hanoi.  

Dracontomelons and lotus – summer specialties in Hanoi - ảnh 4Hanoi’s dracontomelons are made into syrup and snack. (Photo: VOV)

A popular Vietnamese song entitled “Hanoi in the 12 flower seasons” says that dracontomelon flowers signal July. So which flower implies June in the capital city? Apparently, it is lotus. 

Lotus can be found everywhere in Vietnam, but, indeed, Hanoi is where you can find the majority of the varieties. In the blooming season, lotus ponds all around Hanoi are always packed with photographers and amateur models, who brave the scorching sun for photo shoots.   

One Hanoi resident said, “Lotus is Vietnam’s unique flower. I want to take a photo collection with lotus, a kind of memory to look back when I grow old.”

“Lotus grows in mud but it’s beautiful and fragrant. It symbolizes purity and virtuousness. That’s why I want to take photos with lotus,” another commented.

Hanoi has a lot of lotus ponds, particularly in its outskirts like Gia Lam  and Chuong My district; and most interestingly in Ninh Xa, Thuong Tin district where 12 lotus varieties are being bred, many of them are rare. Owner Nguyen Van Hanh went all out to turn this area into a gorgeous lotus pond.

“Snakes used to slither here for shelter. Then I decided to grow lotus which have spikes to keep the snakes at bay. There were only three lotus varieties in the first place,” said Hanh.

Dracontomelons and lotus – summer specialties in Hanoi - ảnh 5 Nguyen Van Hanh grows 12 lotus varieties in his pond. (Photo: VOV)

Ninh Xa lotus pond was expanded from 5,000 square meters originally to 8,000 square meters. Hanh travelled to other parts of Vietnam to collect rare varieties and brought them back home for breeding.

“Tourists are thrilled by the many lotus varieties growing in the same pond. They are delighted to admire the rare flowers that they haven’t seen their whole life. I also brew lotus tea for them after their shooting sessions,” said Hanh.

Duc Tuan is a photographer who often visits Ninh Xa lotus pond. “I filmed lotus ponds in Da Nang and Ho Chi Minh city already but there is only a single variety in a pond. This pond with 12 varieties is truly a big thing,” said Tuan.  

Dracontomelons and lotus – summer specialties in Hanoi - ảnh 6A rare lotus variety in Ninh Xa pond. (Photo: VOV) 

Some of the rare lotus varieties in Ninh Xa pond are Hue royal lotus, single petal lotus typically found in southern Vietnam, white lotus with pink border, double petal lotus with violet border, and Quan Am lotus, which has multiple petals shaped like Buddha’s hands protecting the people.

“I love and treasure Quan Am or Bach Diep lotus the most. Each flower is really big. In this pond, I also grow the Bach Nien Tra lotus flower. We put tea inside the flowers and pick the flowers the next day. The tea taken from Bach Nien Tra can be brewed right away or refrigerated for use later. The tea has an amazing scent,” said Hanh.

Actually, the twelve varieties in Ninh Xa lotus pond do not blossom simultaneously so it’s really rare to admire all of them at once but enjoying a vast lotus area under the sunshine filled with its soothing aroma still offers the perfect getaway from busy city life to just simple, beautiful nature.