Nguyễn Thu Hiền
The cold weather of winter reminds me of one of the most nutritious soups, which is always served hot. The soup originates in China, as the main ingredients contain Chinese herbs.
Some researchers say that gà ác (a kind of small black chicken) is the best type of chicken for this dish. The black chicken contains protein, minerals and vitamins, the effects of which are when the bird is stewed with Chinese herbs.
The dish has many health benefits, especially for expectant mothers and anyone who is unwell.
If consumed regularly, the dish is said to protect people from flu and heart disease.
In the past, the dish was reserved only for the rich members of royalty. Today, anyone can prepare it at home or buy on the street at a reasonable price.
The dish has the perfect combination of soft, tasty chicken with sweet stewed soup of seven Chinese herbs including kỷ tử (lycium barbarum), đẳng sâm (Codonopsis pilosula, a kind of ginseng), đương quy (Angelica sinensis); táo tàu (jujube); ngải cứu (mugwort); lotus seed and thục địa (Rehmannia glutinosa Libosch).
Without ginseng, the soup lacks its unique flavour. With mugwort, the soup tastes both sweet and bitter.
All ingredients can be easily found at markets and supermarkets.
Lê Thị Hải, from Hàng Bạc Street, said a tip to get rid of the smell of chicken flesh is rubbing salt on the cleansed chicken.
“Take out the chicken’s intestines, then put some pepper and salt into the chicken,” she told Việt Nam News. “Let it absorb for at least half an hour before putting it in a saucepan together with all ingredients and some water to stew for two hours.”
Coconut water also helps the soup to be sweeter.
The soup can be eaten with bread or noodles while the chicken should be dipped in a mixture of salt and lemon juice.
You can find the dish along many streets in Hà Nội.
Thanh Thủy Stew Chicken Court on An Dương Area in Tây Hồ District is a popular shop offering the dish.
Phạm Thị Thủy, the owner of the shop, said she sells up to 1,000 portions of stewed chicken a day.
“Each day we buy 60-70kg of fresh chicken,” she said. “We choose only the thighs to serve to guests.”
After stewing the chicken for 10-15 minutes, Thủy adds mugwort so that it tastes less bitter.
Each pan she cooks at a low temperature for an hour. Then she puts each thigh in a beer can to serve.
She serves in the morning and returns home at noon to prepare the dish for the afternoon. Her husband, Trịnh Kế Thanh, is responsible for the rest of the day.
“We get up at 4am every day to prepare the dish,” he said. “We open at 6am and run till 8pm.”
Thanh said they sell 700-800 portions of chicken, as well as 700 of trứng vịt lộn (balut, or duck’s egg with baby duck inside) on weekdays and more at weekends.
The peak hour for the shop is between 11am and 1pm and after 4pm. Customers are mostly students and labourers, who prefer reasonable prices.
“I often eat here with my son,” said Lê Thanh Tú, who lives nearby. “The chicken thigh is both soft and tender while the soup is sweet. The mugwort tastes good, not bitter like at other restaurants.”
Tú said she can cook the dish at home but it’s so convenient to buy it here, especially at weekends when she wants to relax from housework. VNS