Top 10 unique food specialties of Northern mountains in Vietnam

Travelling to mountainous areas has been an exceptional experience to both domestic tourists and foreign visitors in recent years. Not only do they have the chance to witness the epic sceneries from the top of the highlands or the mountains, they can also learn a lot about the ethnic tribes here from many perspectives like traditions, culture, customs and of course, cuisine. Ignoring the cuisine here is a really big mistake!

Let’s find out what special dishes we should try once when coming to those mountainous regions

1. Buffalo meat hung up smoking-shelf

This dish is one of the the Northwest specialties, which has total different taste from the buffalo meat in the delta regions. The process of making buffalo meat hung upon cooking fire in Northwest kitchen is very unique.

It is made from fresh and delicious buffalo, marinated with spices of lemongrass, chili, garlic, ginger and cape yellowwood (also known as “mac khen”, which is a typical spices of the Northwest). The most delicious buffalo meat in the Northwest kitchen is the way of processing and drying from charcoal, the Northwest people know how to time the meat to be cooked, still retain the toughness, sweetness but not too dry.

Where to eat?

Kitchen buffalo meat is a specialty of Lao Cai and Northwest mountainous provinces such as Ha Giang, Lai Chau, Dien Bien and Yen Bai.

2. “Thang co”

"Thang co" is a traditional dish of the H'mong, an ethnic minorities of Vietnam. This dish is said to have originated from Yunnan (China)

 The H;mong dissect the horse meat, make the meat clean, took all the edible organs of the animal and chopped it into pieces. Then they use charcoal fire, which must be "brightly pink" to cook all things like head meat, butt meat, heart, liver, bowels of the horse on a large saucepan at the same time, stir-fry. When the meat is shrunk a little bit, they pour water into the pan and let it simmer for hours.

In order for the pot of water to be delicious, H’Mong home-cooks have to take good care of it: scoop each spoon of the foam out to make the bone broth more sweet and clearer. Parts such as: heart, heart, liver, secretion, meat, bone, are added in the last step and simmered. You can add more vegetables to it if you want.

The traditionally cooked meat is horse meat which later added beef, buffalo meat, and pork

The dish might sound pretty strange, but it’s worth trying because of soft fragrant meat of the horse in highland only.

Where to eat?

The dish can be easily found in the Northwest provinces such as Ha Giang and Yen Bai ... but the best is still in Bac Ha, Sapa.

3. “Ruou Tao Meo” (Wine made from Docynia)

The people in mountainous area often pour rice wine into fermented ‘Tao Meo’ fruit. To get a good cider, the brewing time must be up to 6-8 months, after which the wine will be a yellowish color, and from one year onwards the wine will be reddish brown,

When drinking, it will have a sour, mild taste and quite easy to drink.

Due to the unique characteristics of living only in cool climates, ‘Tao Meo’ are found only in hilly areas with the altitude over 1000 meters and Mu Cang Chai is like a cradle where the best ‘Tao meo’ fruits are produced with fragrant, sweet, slightly acrid and moderate size.

This kind of fruit can be a precious medicine or be a refreshing and nutritious drink in the summer.

Where to eat?

This is listed as one of the most popular dish of the Northwest, where it is very well brewed, and has a very fragrant flavor.

4. Goby buried in ash

Processing delicious goby meat buried in ash has to go through many steps, requiring ingenuity and experience.

Goby must choose evenly in size and the be marinated with spices of lemongrass, chili, ginger, pepper, cape yellowwood, basil leaves, and basil leaves are chopped. After being marinated for about 15 - 30 minutes, the gobies are cleverly encapsulated in ‘dong’ leaves and buried in the hot ash. They have to turn it over every 30 minutes for a few times until the fish is cooked.

Where to eat?

Goby buried in ash is made from gobies prepared by locals of Vang Pheo, Phong Tho in Lai Chau villages.

Coming to Vang Pheo village in Muong So, Lai Chau, visitors will also be able to enjoy dishes with the flavors of Northwestern mountains such as ‘pa pinh hop’ and grilled moss.

5. Grilled moss

Did you know "moss" is also a Northwest specialty? Moreover, it is extremely delicious? But only Northwestern moss that is  edible

Mosses have a very short shelf life, about 2 to 3 days and often grow where water flows, or foothills or they cling to large rocks helping moss grow easily. When it takes longer, moss will be dry and not delicious.

Thai people often take moss by walking along the streams, using a knife to cut the moss clinging to the rock, then use a wooden pestle to smash the moss to extract the sandy soil.

Grilled moss is especially delicious compared to other processing methods such as frying or cooking soup. First, you have to process the moss to remove the sand inside. Then the moss is soaked with some spices such as ginger, lemongrass, onions, lotus seeds, ... and wrapped in ‘dong’ or banana leaves and then grilled on charcoal or can be buried in ash.

 To enhance the deliciousness of this dish, people often grill it with chicken, pork and fish. There are places where people use young bamboo tube instead of banana leaves so baked moss has a characteristic sweetness

Where to eat?

Grilled moss is known as specialty of Ha Giang, Lai Chau and Dien Bien provinces

6. Bamboo cooked rice of  Bac Me

Bamboo cooked rice of Bac Me is made from the best upland glutinous rice and cooked in cork tubes or bamboo tubes lined with banana leaves, algae leaves and then baked.

Before eating, people used a knife to cut off the outer layer of the bamboo tube (that has been burnt black), then stripped off the innermost white crust. When enjoying, the rice has a complex aroma blended with the smell of algae leaves, attractive banana leaves. Normally, the people here often eat bamboo cooked rice with salt, peanuts, sesame salt or grilled stream fish, which will make the dish more fragrant and fleshy.

Where to eat?

Through the name of the dish, you might have guessed where bamboo cooked rice has the best taste, right? It’s Bac Me town of Ha Giang province which is located in the Northwest area.

7. 5-color sticky rice

If you enjoy sticky rice sticky rice in mountainous areas, you will be surprised because the sticky rice has many different colors: green, red, purple yellow, white ... Each color is made from raw materials, which is the forest fruits and vegetables completely. Therefore, it is very fragrant and safe.

People use very familiar and rustic ingredients to create sticky colors. They use baby jackfruit to create the red color, turmeric for yellow, ginger leaves for green, burned ginger leaves for black, and white is the original color of sticky rice.

Five-color sticky rice is not only a creative dish but also expresses the mind of the people of people here, which shows the wish for the family to be happy, and thank the earth for their favorable harvest.

Where to eat?

This sticky rice dish in Mai Chau, Hoa Binh - Northwest is so popular that it has come into beautiful poems of Quang Dung – a famous Vietnamese poet of the 20th century.

Sticky rice is a popular rice substitute in the Northwestern highlands. Coming to Mai Chau, enjoying the sticky rice made by Thai women is one-of-a-kind experience.

8.”Khau nhuc”

This is a traditional dish of Lang people and is considered as a "luxurious" dish of the Nung people because it is often eaten on family special occasions such as Tet or  weddings. It is made from bacon, marinated with basil, five flavors, wine, honey and sugar. In particular, "khau nhuc" is steamed aquatic so it is very soft and much more fragrant.

This dish is suitable for enjoying during cold weather. When eating people often use chopstick to pick up both meat and vegetables to enjoy so when cutting meat, you should only make small pieces.

“Khau nhuc” can be eaten with rice or sticky rice

Where to eat?

Lang Son is one of the most famous destinations for the dish. When coming here, tourists also have the chance to enjoy Mau Son rice wine, that is a very popular drink in this province.

9. Deep-fried veal calves

Moc Chau veal calves are made from calves raised from Moc Chau pasture. In particular, people here only use male calves to make meat, so Moc Chau veal calves have very firm and nutritious meat.

Among the common veal dishes such as stir-fried veal, steamed with lemongrass, deep-fried veal calf is probably the simplest processed dish but the flavor might be the best and  most unforgettable.

As soon as the calf come out of the kitchen, the fat was still sizzling, stirring on the pieces of meat. Then it is put on the plate, sprinkled with roasted sesame seeds and shredded lemon leaves, which makes it look extremely attractive.

Where to eat?

Because this dish originated from Moc Chau - Son La, only Son La is the best place to create the right deep-fried veal calves

10. “Nam pia”

"Nam pia" is a very unique dish of Son La people, not everyone is able to eat it. Because it is made from the intestines taken from the intestines of buffaloes, cows, goats ... and their five organs.

“Nam pia” has a bitter taste but when eaten will retain sweetness in the throat. “Nam pia” is seasoned with many typical spices of mountainous areas so it is appealing because of its spicy, salty, sweet, and very fragrant taste. Especially, enjoying the dish with the barbecue or raw vegetables is very suitable.

Where to eat?

This traditional dish has a long history and is very popular among Thai people, from Moc Chau town of Son La province.

Among the quintessential culinary delights of the Thai people in Son La, the most unique and hard-to-eat food but has the most impressive flavor is “nam pia”

We can only list some of specialties typical of the mountainous provinces. In addition to the delicious dishes we mentioned above, there are also many delicious specialties in the mountains such as roasted duck with “mac mat” leaves, egg rolls, pickled pork, and so on Whenever you come to these mountainous areas, please do not ignore this delicious dish!


If you are looing for a place to satisfy your curiosity about Northern Vietnamese cuisine, then Lang Lieu is exactly where you should head to!

Named after the progenitor of Vietnamese cuisine, we dedicate ourselves to providing a special journey back time so that every guest can fully sense Vietnamese culture-rich history through the food we serve. Our menu presents signature traditional dishes in Northern Vietnam, from the Old Quarter of Hanoi to the mountainous North-West and North-East. Also, located right in the Old Quarter of Hanoi, Lang Lieu has such a tranquil vibe that you will immediately find peace the moment you step past the door. 

Book a table and start your culinary journey with us!