The heir to Hue's royal cuisine reveals cooking secrets


Be ready to delight your taste buds, as the heir to Hue’s traditional royal cuisine explains how to season simple dishes like stir-fried vegetables and stewed fish to unlock a unique flavor.

Mrs. Ton Nu Thi Ha is one of the last surviving royal cooks. The 77-year-old from Hue began cooking at the age of 10 and was schooled in royal cooking techniques by her aunt, who was also the wife of the Chief Minister. She’s a traditional woman who prepares traditional food, with every dish needing a perfect taste, deep flavors, and a stunning presentation.

At an event in Ho Chi Minh City recently, Mrs. Ha was first introduced as a guest and she shared the secrets of how she uses soy sauce. In her kitchen, it’s used as a marinade, and she delighted the audience with a guide to making a flavorful dipping sauce.

The heir to Hue’s royal cuisine, Mrs. Ton Nu Thi Ha

Uses soy sauce as a marinade and as a final seasoning

Mrs. Ha explained that for her, soy sauce is the final dash of seasoning for her dishes, as well as a marinade for stir-fries. With its deep and unique taste, vegetables and fish soak up the flavors and enhance every element of the dish.

“Soy sauce can be used for marinating or seasoning, such as with my favorite meat stewed with coconut dish, or in a traditional fish stew. Rather than using rock sugar or brown sugar, I prefer to use Nam Duong soy sauce to give my dish a slightly sour taste, plus give it the perfect color of melting sugar. Once stewed for four hours, the fish hardens and the edges begin to curve - giving it a truly Hue taste,” she said.

As a dipping sauce or for adding chilli powder

When making porridge served with pandan leaves, Mrs. Ha adds original soy sauce. When using too many ingredients, the porridge gets diluted and loses flavor, she explains, so only use soy sauce. She also advises cooks to add fresh sauce, rather than leftovers that can become clotted or discolored.

If you’re not a fan of original soy sauce, Mrs. Ha suggests adding crushed garlic and chillies, or even chilli powder, to bring out the flavors. Further, soy sauce can be added to a sweet and sour sauce that can be added to cakes and dumplings. She does note that the garlic soy sauce shouldn’t be used by vegans.

You can use soy sauce to dip in sweet potatoes or to add flavor to morning glory. If you find it too light for dipping things like cabbage, turnip, or mustard greens, just add some extra seasoning to it,” she counsels.

Soy sauce is perfect for dipping or for marinating food

Choosing a soy sauce

When talking about the benefits of soy sauce, Mrs. Ha notes that people with high blood pressure should avoid salt and that soy sauce is an ideal replacement. When cooking more healthy dishes, she replaces salt with soy sauce to not lose any of the taste.

Soy sauce must be balanced and well-seasoned, every drop must have the right flavor. When I’m preparing an omelet, I’d never use fish sauce; only soy sauce. Out of all the soy sauce brands available, Nam Duong soy sauce is the best quality and my first choice. It’s concentrated and doesn’t discolor the dish. When you are a royal cook, like me, you must pay attention to the color and presentation of your dish, not only the taste,” Mrs. Ha said.

Looking back at her childhood, Mrs. Ha explained that Nam Duong soy sauce used to be called Con Meo Den and it was a rare and special sauce back then. Every morning after qigong, her grandfather would make porridge and add soy sauce, occasionally adding a dash of chilli powder.

Soy sauce is a much-loved dipping sauce in Vietnamese meals and has been part of food history for centuries

According to Mrs. Ha, the flavor of Nam Duong soy sauce has been consistent all through the years. “When you cook, you need to know your seasoning so you can master the flavor and the look of the dish. Nowadays, there are good and bad sauces available, but Nam Duong soy sauce is just as great as it ever was,” she said.

In Saigon in 1951, there was a soy sauce factory that used the symbol of Con Meo Den and the name Nam Duong. It produced bottles of sauce with a strong, concentrated flavor that soon captured the hearts of the people. From that point, Nam Duong has been a top brand in Vietnam and featured in millions of meals over the decades. With over 50 years of refining the product, the brand has remained loyal to its traditional flavors whilst harnessing modern manufacturing methods in its production.

March 2019 saw Culture Magazin, a leading bilingual magazine in North America, vote on which was “The Best Taste of Vietnamese Soy Sauce”. The contest was between locally made, Vietnamese soy sauce brands and Nam Duong soy sauce, from Nam Duong International Foodstuff Corporation, was awarded the title

The criteria for the award from Culture Magazin took into account the following:

- Having the best flavor as determined by a survey conducted by Culture Magazin in Toronto, Canada.

- Being favored by consumers in interviews conducted in supermarkets and markets.

- Being noted as having the best flavor by Vietnamese chefs after 70 years on the market.

- Having all the correct licenses and certifications for manufacturing and trading under Vietnamese law and meeting international food safety requirements.

(Source: Kham Pha Newspaper)