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Monday, December 04, 2006

My Grandma and Her Recipe for Muop Tom Xao (Vietnamese Loofah and Shrimp Stir-fry)

Loofah and Shrimp Stir-fry

I only cook loofahs one way -- my grandma's way. Yes, this is the same loofah you can dry out and make into a sponge to scrub yourself with in the shower. But it's also a squash that's so naturally sweet it needs little else to make its flavors come through.

Like all grandmas, mine made culinary wonders that really can't be duplicated. Her specialty was banh nam, sort of like a flat Vietnamese dumpling except with rice flour, shrimp, and pork wrapped in banana leaves. No one else's tastes as good. And four years after my grandma is gone, I still can't eat it without crying. So I don't.

She also made banh it la gai, a mung bean-filled black rice dumpling. The black dough is made from nettle leaves that have been boiled and pureed until darkened. I can still picture my grandma sitting on the patio plucking the leaves while she planned all the treats she'd make for her family. Instead of taking a break to cook lunch, she asked me to make a simple loofah stir-fry for her. She claimed it was the best she'd ever eaten.

My youngest uncle's wife gave me several loofahs from their garden. Peel the outside. The spongy interior can be thinly sliced and sauteed or made into soup.


Muop Tom Xao (Vietnamese Loofah and Shrimp Stir-fry) 

You'll need:
1 loofah
about half a dozen shrimp, peeled, deveined and coarsely minced
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/2 tsp salt
dash of fish sauce

Peel, devein, and mince shrimp.

Add 1/2 tsp salt and mix. Set aside.

Peel loofah. Slice lengthwise. Then slice again horizontally as thinly as possible.

Mince garlic.

Add oil to hot pan. Add garlic and shrimp and saute until shrimp is half-cooked.

Add loofah and saute until loofah is softened and transparent.

Add fish sauce to taste.


Similar Vietnamese squash recipes:
Canh Bi/Bau Nhoi Thit (Vietnamese Pork-Stuffed Winter Melon Soup)
Canh Bi Tom (Vietnamese Winter Melon Soup with Shrimp)


  1. What a lovely story. Thank you so much for sharing. Now, looking at your dish, I think I may have had this same dish by its Indonesian name. But yours look way awesomer!

  2. Grandmothers are something special. Mine used to make this dish for me too.

    - Chubbypanda

  3. I never knew what it was called in English. :) Loofah. Wow it's the same thing as the scrubbers? :D My grandma use to grow these in our backyard. She is the best cook I know. I love her and loofahs. I will try this recipe out. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Hi Everyone,

    Thank you for your nice comments. Grandmas hold a special place in all our hearts don't they?

  5. ahhhh, i was shocked to read that you eat loofahs! i didn't know that! how lovely. your grandma sounds soooo awesome. wish i had gotten the chance to meet her. lucky you...cherish those memories. i'm sure you do.

  6. Hi Angela,
    Ha! Imagine my shock when I realized the loofah I was eating was what people used to scrub themselves. ;)

  7. hey! This is something our family make too! we usually would also use some soft/med textured tofu and sometimes with pork. I am chinese, i suppose this explains the tofu =) I love this one.

  8. Jeni,
    I like the tofu suggestion. Probably better as a soup then?

  9. hi i am linking your picture and recipe on my blog so my reader can learn how to cook loofah! your recipe is most yummy looking. thanks

  10. Oh dear.... one of my grandmas didn't cook at all!!! the other, who passed the year before I was born, was supposedly an amazing cook though -- luckily she taught all her daughters so I got to eat a lot of her specialties with my aunts. Can't wait to try making this! Thank you for sharing!

  11. Hi, this recipe is great and exactly like my mom taught me to make it. My sister grows the loofah (muop xanh in Vietnamese) over the weekend. I just made some this morning and having it with some rice. Fabulous! Thank you WC for posting the recipe.
    BTW, several people were shocked that the loofah vegetable is edible. Yes it is! :) When it is young, the flesh is soft and pliable. But when it's left unpicked from the vine/uneaten the fibers will thicken and firm up,at which point it is inedible. This is similar to the way other fibrous plants develop, such as asparagus and okra. When the young loofa plant does firm up, you can cut it up and use it for a variety of household chores, other than for personal hygiene. My sister cut it up, soaked it in bleach for a while to lighten it a bit, and uses it as a dish scrubber. It's perfect as a scrubber given it the fibers do not scratch pans surfaces.
    Young loofah is a healthy and delicious vegetable. Buy it at the Asian market or grow it and enjoy this great dish. If you grow it, you'll need a trellis for the vines to climb on; the flowers and hanging loofah produce are lovely and graceful, and add beauty to your garden landscape as well.


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