There are high-quality touring services available when one visits Sapa in the northern mountainous province of Lao Cai, there are many high-priced things in the mist-enveloped town for ones to empty their pockets, and there are also top-notch accommodation facilities there for well-to-do tourists.
A street vendor prepares many grilled dishes in Sapa Town
However, to really enjoy the nature-blessed town, most visitors to Sa Pa often choose the opposite way around. In this regard, roadside food vendors there offer budget-conscious visitors a real good experience.
Just imagine small open fires along the street leading to beauty spots in Sa Pa often surrounded by groups of visitors who want to enjoy food the way Sapa residents do. Most popular dishes on offer are simple barbecues that can make tourists’ mouth water.
Barbecues are attractive to most people, and are quite popular for those living in localities with temperate climate. However, grilled foods in Sapa will bring another experience to visitors.
Sa Pa, some 350 kilometers north-west of Ha Noi, is an ideal place to enjoy grilled foods for its variety of dishes such as grilled egg, chicken, beef with vegetable, rice and chestnut among others. What makes grilled foods there more enjoyable is the way they are served, as vendors of tribal groups there prepare such food on small fires by the street to cater to tourists.
On the rough way to Thac Bac, or Silver Waterfall, for example, one can see many such open fires within 100 meters from the foot for the water fall.
Sweet potato, corn and cassava can be considered as appetizers that smell very good and taste delicious. Little brownish chestnut baked in hot coal is a wonderful finger food too.
In addition, rice in bamboo tube is a wise choice as it is very soft and diners have to split the tube before eating. Rice is put into the bamboo tube, added with water and put on a fire until the fresh bamboo turns brown. Those skewers are quite cheap, at around VND8,000 each.
Meanwhile, travelers should not ignore grilled cabbage roll with beef, chicken wings with honey, salmon or other fish soaked in spices since they are fresh and smell good, which could be seen as main courses. Especially, many visitors love grilled pork in Sapa as it tastes sweet and tough, which is only found in this town.
Ethnic minorities raise a small strain of pigs endemic to the locality around their house and let them roam the field, so they are have little fat. The price is around VND15,000 a skewer.
Diners can have a full stomach when spending just VND100,000 or nearly US$5 on those delicious foods.
All of the ingredients to prepare those foods are grown in Sapa by local residents of tribal groups such as H’Mong, Dao and Tay.
It is wonderful to sit around a burning charcoal fire, on a small chair, enjoy grilled food and chat with friends in a cool night of a mountainous area. Diners can also listen to interesting stories from local ethnic people living there.
Others can walk around the town to buy souvenirs while eating these barbecue foods. Vendors selling grilled foods are everywhere in the foggy town from the market to small alleys but they mainly gather along Ham Rong Street, an area near the stone church in Sa Pa Town. Therefore, it is called the barbecue street because there are around ten barbecue food stalls in a street stretching just 100 meters.
For first-timers in Sa Pa, it should be also noted that the town is a valuable sight-seeing destination, and place for them to explore peculiar cultural traits of different tribal groups there.
Sa Pa is home to six different ethnic minority groups, each having their own festivals handed down from their ancestors and are still preserved in their full colors and identities these days. There is also the traditional market gathering on every Sunday, and residents from communes far away often prepare for the occasion the day earlier, with many departing for the weekly event on Saturday to be there in time. The famous Love Market awash with singing and flute sounds and young lads and lasses in colorful fashions is also organized on the occasion.
Sa Pa is also a good place for ones to escape the sultry weather in Ha Noi during summer, as the climate in the town, some 1,600 meters above the sea level, is quite mild. The average temperature in Sapa is only 15 degrees Celsius, and the maximum daytime temperature in Sa Pa is only 15 Celsius.
Sa Pa occasionally offers a good chance for those wanting to see snowfall in winter, when the temperature normally approaches zero.
Sa Pa can also brag about its magnificent natural beauties, from Ham Rong Mount that allows visitors to enjoy a panorama picture of the town to Thac Bac, from the Bamboo Forest to Sa Pa Ancient Rocks, from Cat Cat Village to Muong Hoa Valley among others.
But, standing out from all such values, road-side foods make Sapa a special rendezvous for visitors, especially those wanting to enjoy Sa Pa the budget-minded diner’s way.