Sau Season in Hanoi
By the beginning of June the Sau trees (Dracontomelon) that line many of Hanoi’s streets are covered in marble sized, hard, green fruit. The glut doesn’t last long however – troupes of illegal harvesters soon start shimmying up to precarious heights to pick the coveted fruit. Of course for Tala, these fruit pickers were coming far too close to her balcony for comfort. Her hackles went up and she gave several alarmed barks imploring me to deal with these peculiar arboreal invaders.
After being ignored the ‘brave’ hound decided to retreat to the safety of her sofa, hiding behind a cushion while keeping a close eye on the men who were hard at work.
The next day, while out on our morning walk, we saw more harvesters. They are primarily young men who try to work as quickly as possible before the sidewalk police drive by and fine them. Picking sau fruit is illegal as it does the trees quite a lot of damage – many branches are broken off and tossed down to a team mate who does more picking on the ground. Despite all the effort and risk the fruit only sell for about 50,000 dong (or about two dollars fifty a kilo).
Tala hadn’t noticed the man until he began shimmying down.
The next step of course was to see what all the fuss was. What makes these little fruit so special? Of course there are apparently many health benefits, although I’m not sure that they have yet been confirmed by science. Scarcity also appears to play a part – the trees only grow in the north of the country and large fruiting ones are primarily found in Hanoi. The city trees’ flavor is also seen as superior to those in the countryside – perhaps pollution for once plays a helpful role?!
The Vietnamese usually peel a thin layer off the fruit and then preserve them in jars with sugar and ginger. After about ten days liquid leaches out and a sugary cordial forms around the fruit. Vietnamese usually drink the cordial mixed with ice and water. After trying the delicious sau fruit cordial I decided that it could potentially play a key flavor role as an enhanced sugar syrup in a cocktail. Below is the recipe for my newly invented Hanoi Gin Sau!
Hanoi Gin Sau
-50ml fresh lime juice
-25ml Sau cordial
Shake the above ingredients with ice in a cocktail shaker – pour and then top up with a little bit of soda water and garnish with sau fruit (also edible).