Thanks to a pioneering project overseen by the Norwegian Red Cross, poor residents in Nghet Village of northern Tuyen Quang Province are being put on the path to prosperity through a raft of vital infrastructure interventions.
Lai Vung has achieved renown for its beloved nem or fermented pork hash. Yet those who have visited the place also know it as a lovely land blessed with fertile soil and hard-working people.
Located in the south of Dong Thap Province, neighboring Vinh Long Province, and just a river’s width away from Can Tho, Lai Vung District is a quintessential gift of the southern waterways.
Lai Vung is not a primitive place where “mosquitoes buzz as loudly as a flute and leeches swarm a noodle bowl” unlike many other places in the Mekong River basin.
Formed by alluvium deposited by the Hau River, one of the two major branches of the Mekong, Lai Vung does not have immense rice fields, but winding canals divide it into numerous communes with their distinct characteristics and attractions.
Phong Hoa Commune, for instance, is famous for its lilies, which a recent research by Can Tho University found to be better than lilies grown elsewhere in Lai Vung, including in next door Tan Hoa Commune.
Hong Vinh Thoi grows excellent, juicy golden tangerines that have become a specialty that Vietnamese wait anxiously for every Lunar New Year.
As for Long Hau Commune, it is a lively place constantly bustling with boat makers sawing and chiseling away.
Boat making, a traditional profession that dates back hundreds of years in Long Hau, has long had a good reputation before becoming even more famous because of a song by well-known southern folk opera singers Minh Vuong and Le Thuy.
Even in these times of recession Long Hau residents manage to earn stable incomes from their ancient profession.
Other communes like Hoa Long and Tan Thanh also have their own respective crafts like making fish hooks and fish traps and weaving bamboo baskets.
Then there is the impressive output of straw mushroom. Lai Vung churns out 8,000 tons a year and has a market selling the mushrooms that is without equal in the region.
Fermented pork hash
Lai Vung’s fermented pork hash is a highly popular dish in the southeastern region.
Dating back to 1975, it originated in the household of Tu Man who lived in what is now Tan Khanh Hamlet, Tan Thanh Commune.
In the beginning, Tu Man only made the dish on special neighborhood occasions. It gradually caught on and she began to sell it at what is Tan Thanh Market today. Tu’s fermented pork hash was an instant hit and has since become a Lai Vung specialty.
Making fermented pork hash requires hard work. The meat is first ground into a paste in a stone grinder and the pork skin is cut into small thin slices.
These are mixed with pepper and chili, wrapped in sunshine leaf and then in fresh banana leaf, and set aside to ferment for up to four days at a temperature of 27 to 30 degrees Celsius.
Everything needs to be just right about it -- 80 percent must be pork and 20 percent skin; the pork must be fresh; the spices must be mixed in the right ratio; the ingredients must be wrapped tightly and evenly.
The dish can be served with steamed rice or vermicelli or by itself as a dessert. Few can resist Lai Vung fermented pork hash when it is served with bread. There are 20 licensed producers in Lai Vung who churn out 500,000 pieces every day.
They sell their products at their own shops as well as to retailers within and outside the province. Their biggest consumers are Vam Cong Wharf, Cao Lanh, Can Tho, Sam Mountain, and Cam Mountain Park.
The Lai Vung producers also send salespeople to sell their product on buses.