The horse meat, called thang co, is a traditional dish of the Mong ethnic group in the mountainous north-western region.
Thang co has been known for years as a speciality of the Mong culture. The technique of making it is quite simple. After the animal is killed and washed, its internal parts are removed, which are later cut up. These parts are put in a big pan and fried in their own grease. Minutes later, water is added to the pan and the meat is simmered for hours.
To spice up the dish, salt and some spicy fruits including thao qua and dia dien can be added, giving to the dish an attractive aroma.
Rượu táo Mèo, a local whisky of moutain apples is always recommended for men when enjoying thang co and women often eat it with com nam (rice balls) or men men (ground maize). During the group meal of thang co, participants exchange stories about crops, hunting, villages and daughters-in-law. For young bachelors and bachelorettes, it can be a good opportunity to make new friends and even find a future husband or wife.
Visitors are always impressed by the big Thang Co pan and bean soup bowls at colorful market days of Bac Ha Town. It is really interesting to taste a bowl of Thang Co with big pieces of horse meat and drink wine made from corn to experience cuisine of the H’mong ethnic minority in these remote areas.
Market days are always crowded and people hardly can pass by Thang Co shops without tasting it. Thang Co in H’mong language means a big pot of water. In the past, Thang Co used to be cooked with horse meat. At present, Thang Co is cooked with other kinds of meat such as buffalo, pork and goat. Thang Co’s recipes in the past were a little different to the current one.
Like Thang Co, most of dishes of H’mong minority people are always simply made, and, though Thang Co has been one of the most special dishes of the H’mong culture, the preparing process is quite simple. After a horse is butchered and washed, its internal organs are removed. The horse meat is chopped into small pieces. Then, these pieces are mixed with special spices and put into a big pan. After being fried in it’s own fat, water is added and the meat is stewed for hours.
Thang co is always ready when people complete their trading. Sitting on low chairs, H’mong men usually enjoy Thang Co with liquor distilled from fermented corn, while their wives are waiting for them at a distance.
At the end of a market day, drunken men stumble or sleep on horse backs while their wives walk behind them. That is a custom of local residents and it is rare to see all of the family eating Thang Co together.
H’mong people go to market not only to buy goods, eat Thang Co and drink corn liquor but also to meet and talk with their friends and socialize, and this is an important element of their culture.
- From Lao Cai city, tourists can travel by coach 60 km north to Bac Ha District. The district’s old name was Pac Ha. This means “a hundred bundles of grass”; later on people called it as Bac Ha.
- Bac Ha fair, one of the biggest in Northern Vietnam takes place on Sundays. The fair is famous for agricultural products, farming tools and cattle. In spring time, visitors will have opportunities to see the most special cultural identities in the fair.
- Besides the fair, Bac Ha is also famous for its tourist sites such as Pho Hamlet with liquor distilled from fermented corn, Ta Van Chu Hamlet for brocades, Lung Phin buffalo market, Hoang A Tuong house which was built between 1919 to 1921.