Pork gia cay

Giả cầy – A unique Vietnamese braise dish

Giả cầy is a North Vietnamese pungent braise dish and also a cooking style. In this dish, meat is marinated with galangal, lemongrass, fermented rice and Vietnamese “mắm tôm” shrimp paste and get braised. The dish is usually served with Vietnamese rice vermicelli (bún) in some restaurants, but locals may also eat with rice or bánh mì baguette.

The origin

Etymologically, “giả” means fake, “cầy” means civet, so “giả cầy” means “fake civet” in its pure meaning. So the dish may date back to the time when people still hunt wild animals for food. Civets are small to medium-sized mammals that look like a fox. Probably, the ancient Vietnamese cooked the meat with galagal and lemongrass to mask the gamey flavor. Even now, the small Indian civet (Viverricula indica, Vietnamese: cầy hương) is still farm-raised at a small scale for Vietnamese men to to try gamey food. However, civets are rare, so the Vietnamese apply the cooking method to other meat, and one of the most noticeable is dog meat. Gradually, the word “cầy” becomes a slang word for dog. So, some modern people, including Google employees who edit stuffs or Youtubers, think that “giả cầy” is “fake dog meat”, but actually it should be “fake civet meat”. The “giả cầy” cooking also apply to pig’s legs, pork belly, rabbit meat, boar meat, Muscovy ducks, turkeys, ostriches, goat meat, catfish and even “dragons”…

Goose gia cay
Goose “Giả cầy”

Cooking method and variations

The meat used in “giả cầy” dish often has skin on, and the skin get slightly roasted (usually with rice straws if possible). This step is called “thui” in Vietnamese, and the purpose is to bring out the aromatic flavor of the meat.

The meat is then chopped into bite-sized pieces and marinated with pounded galangal, minced lemongrass, fermented rice and Vietnamese “mắm tôm” shrimp paste. Variations of this dish is largely the choice of marinade ingredients.

The “Nghệ An” version includes mandarin orange peels, and sugarcane molasses. Some regional versions call for corn wine (rượu ngô), or glutinouse rice wine (rượu nếp) or fermented corn paste (tương ngô). Some modern recipes remove the shrimp paste, because some Vietnamese can’t even handle the paste.

Pork gia cay served with Vietnamese rice vermicelli
Pork gia cay served with Vietnamese rice vermicelli at a restaurant

So, the meat will be marinated for some time before being cooked and simmered for about an hour just like common braising technique. If wine or liquor is used, it should be added the last minute when the dish is almost ready.

A different variation of the original “giả cầy” method is called “nướng giả cầy“. The meat is still marinated with common “giả cầy” ingredients like galangal, lemongrass, etc, but instead of braising, the chefs will grill or roast the meat on direct heat.

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