Toxic root transformed: The art of ‘au tau’ porridge

Travel Guide

In the picturesque province of Ha Giang, Vietnam, lies a hidden gem that has been captivating both locals and tourists for over three decades – Moc Mien porridge shop. Located at No. 140 on Highway 4C, just a kilometer away from Dong Van Town in the northern highlands, this quaint eatery has earned its reputation as a cherished establishment serving ‘au tau’ (Aconitum Fortunei Hemsl) porridge. Despite the potentially toxic nature of the key ingredient, au tau porridge has become a beloved Ha Giang staple due to its unique taste and medicinal properties.

The Bitter Delight: Au Tau Porridge

Au tau porridge, often referred to as bitter porridge, revolves around the au tau root, a native tree found abundantly in the Ha Giang region. While this root is naturally poisonous, local expertise and age-old cooking techniques transform it into a delectable treat. Beyond its culinary use, au tau is esteemed for its medicinal qualities, offering remedies for colds, muscle relaxation, fatigue relief, and improved sleep.

The Craft of Preparing Au Tau Porridge

The preparation of au tau porridge is an intricate process that involves a careful combination of the roots, rice, pork, pork legs, eggs, vegetables, and other ingredients. Mien, the shop owner, dedicates hours every day to soak, pre-process, and simmer the ingredients, creating a pot of porridge that exudes rich flavors.

To neutralize its toxicity, the au tau root must first be soaked in concentrated rice water for approximately 10 hours. Afterward, it is simmered for several more hours until all the toxins are safely released, rendering the roots tender and safe for consumption. Mien personally tastes the simmered roots to ensure that all traces of poison have disappeared before serving the porridge to customers.

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The Gastronomic Experience

When guests arrive at Moc Mien, they are treated to a feast of flavors. The white porridge, au tau roots, and pork legs are served in a bowl, adorned with coriander and perilla. To further enhance the taste, guests have the option to add eggs or balut, alongside side dishes like pork legs and minced meat. The pork legs, sourced from locally raised pigs, are grilled to perfection and then cut into pieces before being added to the simmering pot. The minced pork is stir-fried to complement the dish.

The resulting bowl of porridge boasts a harmonious blend of the yellow pork leg broth and the white, smooth porridge. The bitterness of the au tau roots, the savory pork legs and minced meat, combined with the aromatic perilla, spicy pepper, and scallion, create a heartwarming treat perfect for a serene evening in the highlands.

Savory Caution: Moderation is Key

While au tau porridge offers a tantalizing experience, its potential toxicity calls for caution. In Ha Giang, it is recommended that individuals consume only 1-2 bowls of au tau porridge per week. The safety measures taken by Mien and other skilled cooks ensure that the dish can be savored without any harm. Each bowl of au tau porridge is reasonably priced at VND30,000 ($1.30).


Moc Mien porridge shop stands as a testament to the culinary ingenuity of Ha Giang. Through the art of transforming toxic roots into a delightful delicacy, au tau porridge has become an inseparable part of the region’s culture. With its unique flavors and healing properties, this beloved dish will continue to captivate taste buds and offer comfort to those seeking a taste of the highlands.

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FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

  1. Is au tau porridge safe to eat? Yes, au tau porridge is safe to eat when prepared correctly. The cooking process involves neutralizing the toxins in the au tau root, ensuring it is safe for consumption.
  2. Can I find au tau porridge in other restaurants in Ha Giang? Yes, au tau porridge is available in many other restaurants throughout Ha Giang City and Dong Van Town.
  3. What are the medicinal properties of au tau? Au tau is treasured for its medicinal properties, offering remedies for colds, muscle relaxation, fatigue relief, and improved sleep.
  4. What makes au tau porridge bitter? The bitterness of au tau porridge comes from the au tau root, which is naturally bitter and potentially toxic.
  5. Can I add additional ingredients to the porridge? Yes, guests can choose to add eggs or balut, alongside side dishes like pork legs and minced meat, to enhance the flavors of the porridge.