The “magical” spices that make the dishes in Northwest Vietnam unforgettable?

As a land of ethnic minorities, the typical dishes of the Thai, Dao, and Mong, cuisine in Northwest area has created an irresistible attraction for tourists from many places. Contributing a significant part to create an unforgettable taste of these dishes is the unique spices which have been used in almost every dish.

In Lang Lieu restaurant, there is a separate area used to display these spices that come from Northwest region, where tourist can visit, read the instructions about how to use these spices. With this corner, we would like to give tourists from all over the country and from abroad the chance to get to know more about Vietnamese cuisine.

But first, let figure out a little with us what these magical spices are!

1. Cape Yellowwood (Indian black pepper seeds)


Cape Yellowwood, a wild plant belonging to the anise family, which has essential oils and aromas. November is the common time to harvest the seeds. Because the tree trunk has thorns, no one dared to climb it but just pick the pole to pick.

Fresh seeds will give a stronger flavor but they cannot be preserved for long, so people break them up and hang on the kitchen to dry and use all year round.

When dried pods are automatically peeled, they reveal a glistening black-seeded seed, the shell forming a lovely flower shape, similar to miniature anise.


It is spicy, with a typical aroma

How to process/ how to use

Dry seeds must be roasted, cooled down and ground into a fine powder to use

Cape yellowwood is often used to dip it with sticky rice, but it is best suited to marinate grilled foods. If you have ever enjoyed the grilled dishes marinated with such things as this special spice, you will definitely not forget the typical flavor of it.
Especially when making the dipping sauce, you can add a little bit of roasted seed powder to the dipping sauce, it will make you dish more appealing. Especially sauce with Indian black pepper is extremely suitable with fish, fried or grilled dishes.

2. “Cham cheo”


“Cham cheo” is a combination of many Northwest spices, which are typical from the mountains of Sapa, including  salt, garlic, chili, herbs and an indispensable spice is Cape yellowwood.
"Chum" in Thai language means dipping, "cheo" is something made from spices, when mixed together.


The crunchy sauce will contain the scent of chopped vegetables, the spiciness of roasted peppers and the pungent smell of garlic combined with the characteristic taste of Cape yellowwood. It brings an unique taste that no other dipping sauce has.

How to process/ how to use

The basic way of making a “cham cheo” is to use dried chili or fresh chili to bake to reduce pungency when natural spicy is still retained. Garlic and Cape yellowwood will also be baked on charcoal to get the best flavor. All the ingredients, when finished processing, will be taken to a paste, mixed into a thick sauce that is able to match almost any dishes.
It is said that every dish will become more irrisistable than ever with this dipping suace. From boiled meat, boiled bamboo shoots to sour fruits such as mango, pineapple, peach, etc.

3. Clausena indica (“mac mat”)


Clausena indica is also a very famous mountainous spice in Northwest area. Clausena indica is a woody plant, both the fruits and young leaves can be used to create a special and delicious spice.
Clausena indica trees grow mainly at the foot of limestone mountains at elevations below 1,000m, a few grow on rocky and hillside slopes. The tree is suitable for mild climatic conditions.
The flowers of it bloom in May and fruits are ripen in July-August. “Mac mat” is the name of the Tay, Nung ethnic groups, temporarily understood as sweet fruit. The fruits are thin and fresh, and it has the size of a thumb, as small as a little finger. The fruit are round with th outer shell is pale yellow, transparent, with thin veins like thread. Clausena indica fruits can be used both fresh and dry, while the aroma is concentrated mainly in the leaves.


The sweet and sour taste together with the gentle aroma

How to process/ how to use

Clausena indica is a popular spice that is very familiar to the people in mountainous areas, which can be processed into many different dishes, for example, it is stewed with fish, bacon or can be soaked in chili vinegar. or braised and dipped with sesame salt.
The way to cook a braised meat with this fruit is as simple as its appearance. You must choose the large berries, greasy meat with fresh meat only, then you put “mac mat” and a little salt in the pot and cover. That’s when braised meat is delicious and feels right
In fact, “mac mat” is used in many highland dishes, the most common are roast duck and Lang Son roast pig. In addition, honeyed leaves and fruits are also used to soak sour bamboo shoots, which are very flavorful.

4. “Hat doi”


In spring, when all the flowers bloom, it is also the time when the inflorescences of white, milky white blooms at the top of the branches. By the end of September, flowers bloom and bear fruit, which is ripe red, each cluster drooping to wait for the beans to drop on the ground. This is also the time when many mountainous people go into the forest to "hunt" the nuts.

There are two types of “hat doi”: The big one and the small one. The big “hat doi” are often sold at a lower price, because the smell is not even fragrant even sometimes they smells very uncomfortable.

The small ones are a little harder to find but it has great fragrant. When the seeds are brought home, they are sold at very high prices but still attract many buyers by the attractive aroma that it brings to each dish.


It is mildly spicy with typical aroma

How to process/ how to use

In the past, the Thai people in the Northwest used “hat doi” as a dipping spice, and spice marinated traditional dishes such as beef, buffalo and dried pork, or dishes like Chinese sausage.

In addition, there are quite a lot of dishes that extremely go with this kind of spice such as bamboo shoot soup (using young shoots of bamboo shoots, cutting, soaking in water for 3 days and then cooking with beef bones). “Hat doi” already have a charming aroma when let dried, but they must be grilled on embers to have the best taste/

Though having extreme aroma, “hat doi” should only be used in moderation. If used too much, it will make the food bitter and pungent, and is difficult to eat. Each dish needs to have the right usage and amount, so overusing it will lose the inherent deliciousness of “hat doi”

5. Black Cardamom (Lanxangia tsaoko)


Black Cardamom tree has the shape like a ginger tree but is much taller and bigger. It can be 2-3m high. The fruit grows in clusters of red color, and each pod has over 20 seeds. Black Cardamom seeds have a nice aroma and pleasant hotness thanks to 1.5% essential oil.

The flowers blooms in the summer from May 5-7, and the fruits appear in winter from October to December.

Black Cardamom usually grows wild or is grown in the mountains higher than 1000m with cool climate and under the canopy of large trees, humid moist soil.

In Vietnam, Black Cardamom is grown in the mountains of Hoang Lien Son and the Northwest, in the districts of Lao Cai, Yen Bai, Ha Giang, Lai Chau ... and the largest production is in Bat Xat district. (Lao Cai). There are also two types of Black Cardamom: Black Cardamom (or Indian cardamom, Nepal cardamom) and Green cardamom


This is hot spicy, has typical smell.

How to process/ how to use

Black Cardamom used in culinary use are dried ones.
Because cardamom has a high nutritional value including fiber, carbohydrates, protein, vitamin C, niacin, pyridoxine, riboflavin and thiamin, iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese, zinc, ... and 1.5% of essential oils. Cardamom is used to cook “pho”, used to increase the taste of coffee, tea.

All of 5 spices, “hat doi”, “cape yellowwood”, “cham cheo”, clausena indica and black cardamom, have been contributing to the transmission of culinary cultural identity of this mountainous region. In addition to witnessing the beautiful view of highland areas, trying these spices is probably like a must-do once you come here.

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!