Cycling around the dramatic crags of Ninh Binh in northern Vietnam is like being in “Halong Bay on Land”. Indeed, that is how many people describe it. Our recipe for eggplant claypot is designed to transport you to this magical place. This is an easy dish to prepare and you do not need a claypot to prepare it.
Eggplant claypot is a heavier dish than most in Vietnam and is well suited to the cooler climate you experience in Ninh Binh, located in northern Vietnam. Any dish that features lemongrass, Asian eggplants, tomatoes, fish sauce and those fantastic herbs like Vietnamese mint and cilantro (coriander) is a winner. And for those of you that are vegetarians, eggplant claypot is a great option.
In Hoi An, the acknowledged food capital of Vietnam, we prepared and ate this popular dish at the Red Dragon Cooking School. There are many regional variations to the dish and this recipe is our interpretation of what we ate in Ninh Binh.
And Ninh Binh? It is slightly off the tourist path but it won’t be for long! Read on to experience and learn more about idyllic Ninh Binh.
Idyllic Ninh Binh
Ninh Binh is home to rocky crags, with gorgeous rice fields carved in between them. It is another slightly surreal place where you need to pinch yourself to make sure you are not dreaming. It is that spectacular.
It is also off the beaten tourist path. Vietnam is heavily populated in a small amount of space. In a word it is crowded. Ninh Binh, Mai Chau and Sapa are more rural than some of the other destinations we have featured in Vietnam. You can take advantage of that here and safely cycle around quiet roads and lanes connecting some of the smaller villages and farmlands.
Cycling was an activity we enjoyed every day here. We cycled as far and wide as we could manage. During one of our trips we just happened to stumble across this procession going on in the middle of nowhere. It is one of our favorite memories of Vietnam.
With a bicycle, we could also cycle through villages which were not on the major roads. You do get a different perspective of village life in the back streets and you can stop wherever you so desire.
Hiking is another activity you can comfortably undertake here. It’s a little cooler than the south and as you can see the landscape is spectacular. What isn’t there to like about hiking here?
During another of our cycling trips we crossed a river which flows lazily through the rocky crags. As you can see it is a very popular activity for the locals. There are plenty of boats for hire at multiple locations where you can sit back and relax and take in the magnificent scenery. No need to do the paddling as that service comes with the boat. Note the unusual paddling style of the locals, where the feet are employed rather than the hands, thereby saving your back.
On the weekends, Ninh Binh is a popular weekend getaway for residents of Hanoi, although still quiet compared to the rest of Vietnam. The boat hire businesses do a roaring trade. During the week it is sleepy, just how we like it.
After all of that exercise, you need a good meal and one of our favorite Vietnamese dishes is this eggplant claypot. The eggplants used in Vietnamese cooking are usually long and skinny, just like we saw in Turkey. But we also ate small pea-shaped eggplants which were minuscule (slighter bigger than a green pea). Any eggplant will work with this dish, just make sure they are cut into smallish, bite-size pieces. Give this eggplant claypot recipe a try and let us know what you think.