Ragworm-pie or so-called cha ruoi has been praised in South China Morning Post as a ‘delicious and unique’ dish that draws diners from miles around to enjoy the meal.
Cha Ruoi Hung Thinh
At the end of fall, when a cold breeze starts to blow through Hanoi’s streets, it’s the time for a Hanoian hot delicacy: the ragworm-pie. The piping hot pie that is extraordinarily delicious and wonderfully fragrant has drawn food lovers to the city's downtown to enjoy them.
The Cha Ruoi Hung Thinh, a street stall in Hanoi’s hectic Old Quarter, is one of few eateries in Hanoi serving cha ruoi. The dish stages a busy scene at lunch time: strangers sit shoulder to shoulder on tiny plastic stools, eagerly waiting for their meal of hot ragworm-pie served with vermicelli and sweet-and-sour sauce.
The worms have awful-looking appearance when they are alive: the colorful creature with size of half of a baby’s little finger and with a soft fuzz around their bodies are wriggling around a bowl, forlornly trying to escape. The fact is, though, that the worms are quite nutritious and their rarity, harvested just once a year, makes them much sought-after. If the diner wasn’t quick and bought them straight away, he’d have to wait a whole year for another chance.
Ragworms. Photo: AFP
Ragworm is a type of mollusk, belonging to a class of “fluff worms” that are only found in brackish waters in some tropical countries, including northern part of Vietnam.
The annual ragworm season is quite short, lasting only two weeks or so, from the 20th day of the ninth lunar month until the fifth day of the tenth lunar month. When spawning, the worms swim in from the sea to the brackish water to lay eggs under 40 to 50 cm of mud. In late fall and early winter, the worm eggs hatch and the youngsters head back out to sea. This is when the “ragworm season” begins.
When under water, the ragworms are a light blue and turn yellow, pink or light brown when taken out of the water and, finally, dark blue just as they’re about to die. Ragworm season tends to come at the same time as tangerine season. Tangerine peel is thin, spicy and fragrant, and drowns out the sandy and fishy taste of the worms, so the two are often combined in dishes.
Diners enjoy cha ruoi. Photo: AFP
Ragworm-pie is a mixture of the worm themselves with minced pork, duck eggs, fish sauce, a little pepper, minced tangerine peel, dill, and green onion. The cooker beats it all with chopsticks until the ingredients are completely mixed together and look smooth. Spoonful after spoonful mixture are dropped into an oil-boiling pan, then fried on low heat until each pie becomes golden brown and gives off a sweet delicious aroma.