Lotus plant (Nelumbo nucifera, Vietnamese: Sen) belongs to the family Nelumbonaceae and its flower (Vietnamese: Hoa sen or bong sen) is the national flower of Vietnam. The lotus plant lives in muddy swamps but its leaves and flowers are grown above the water surface and permeate the pure fragrance. The lotus symbolizes the purity, the holiness and the patience of the Vietnamese people’s souls.
In Vietnam, there are more than 20 local lotus cultivars, and can be planted in many areas of the country. The Mekong River Delta is known for cultivating a lot of lotus plants, especially in Dong Thap province. Farmers in Dong Thap province have a lot of experience in harvesting and using lotus flowers, lotus pips, seeds, stems in the flooding season as well as producing commercial lotus products. In Vietnam, almost every part of a lotus plant can be used.
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Lotus in Vietnamese Cuisine
The lotus flower is treasured by the Vietnamese, and can be displayed on a Buddha altar or ancestor altar during major holidays. Lotus petals are often used to “marinate” tea leaves to make tra sen (lotus tea), an elegant Vietnamese tea. Another type of tea is called tra tim sen (lotus embryo tea) which is made from lotus embryos.
Lotus leaves are historically used to wrap food which transfer the aroma of the leaves to the food. They are also used to make steam dishes, especially com hap la sen or simply called com sen (steamed rice wrapped in a lotus leaf). Lotus rice also has several variations like com chien la sen (fried rice in a lotus leaf), com sen gao huyet rong (steamed “dragon blood” brown rice in a lotus leaf), com sen ngu sac (five-color rice in a lotus leaf) … Lotus leaves are also processed to make tra la sen (lotus leaf tea) and is considered as a valuable medicine ingredient in Vietnamese traditional medicine.
Lotus rhizome is a safe, premium food and medicinal ingredient. Lotus root is utilized as a vegetable to make stew dishes like chan gio ham hat sen (stewed pig trotters with lotus rhizome) which levitates the cool but nutty taste of the lotus root and the fatty umami flavor of the collagen. Lotus roots can also be used in salad dishes such as goi cu sen tom, a salad dish made from sliced lotus root and shrimps or prawns. Lotus roots are sometimes stir-fried or sauté’ed like a vegetable.
Young Lotus Stems Aka Lotus Shoots
Young lotus stems aka lotus shoots (Vietnamese: Ngo sen) are a popular salad ingredient in Vietnamese cuisine. Goi ngo sen tom thit or simply goi ngo sen is a salad dish often found in restaurants, and is made of young stems with shrimps and pork. Variations include goi ga ngo sen (chicken salad with lotus shoots), goi ngo sen tai heo (lotus shoot salad with pig ears), goi bon bon ngo sen (bulrush and lotus shoot salad). Home cooks can make quick meals by stir-frying or sauteing young lotus stems with a variety of food ingredients like meat (pork), prawns, chicken, frog legs,… Old lotus stems have no culinary use and some artisans make lotus silk out of their fibers.
Lotus seeds (Vietnamese: Hat sen) can be chargrilled (with skins on) to make a quick rustic snack. They can be made into candied seeds known as mut hat sen, quite popular during Tet or Vietnamese Lunar New Year. Lotus seeds are also a popular ingredient in some sweet dessert soups (Vietnamese: Che) such as simple che hat sen (lotus seed sweet soup), or more prized che hat sen long nhan (lotus seed sweet soup with longans). Beside che sweet soups, lotus seeds in Vietnam can also be used to make lotus milk (Vietnamese: Sua sen) whose taste can be compared to soya milk.
Other commercial products are dried lotus seeds and lotus wine which is brewed from lotus seeds, roots and pips together with several herbs.
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