The Asia Book of Records recently recognized dishes made from that lat fish (or strabismus fish) as among the top 11 of Vietnam’s tastiest specialties.
The Mekong Delta Province of Ca Mau has been known as a “kingdom” of field fishes such as catfish and snakehead fish and that lat fish.
Locals feel pride in these fish. The fish’s aromatic flavor has created many characteristics dishes, such as bone removed fish grilled with chili and citronella. But the most famous far and wide is the grilled chopped fish and vermicelli soup topped with grilled or steamed chopped fish, and hotpot.
Local Thai Thi Cat, 65, said Ca Mau people often process the fish by hand. But before that, the fresh fish should be carefully cleaned in cold water with light salt to reduce its fish smell.
“It’s rather difficult to use a knife to remove all of the fish’s bones, but Ca Mau housewives have their experienced skills to do it,” Cat said, noting the fish meat is minced or grounded and stuffed well then mixed with a little cooking oil, salt, broth mix and pepper powder and left for 20-25 minutes to ensure that it is tough and fragrant.
Gourmets from HCMC and surrounding provinces often drive to Ca Mau to enjoy the dish. One of them, Chau Hoang Duc, said he loves that lat fish dishes. “I often bring my family members to the province to enjoy the dish on the weekend. My parents, my wife and I are interested in vermicelli soup topped with grilled and steamed chopped fish while my children choose grilled chopped fish in chili sauce, they enjoy it so much.”
“Apart from being attractive for its white from vermicelli, topped with red from tomato, green from fresh onions and brown yellow from grilled chopped fish, the vermicelli soup bowl has a natural sweet and aromatic flavor, no fishing smell and a rich nutritious broth cooked from the fish’s bones. It’s more enjoyable when eaten with fresh herbs,” Duc said.
It was related that long ago, Tu Du, mother of King Tu Duc (1829-1883) was interested in eating dishes made from that lat fish raised at her native home of Go Cong Village of Gia Dinh Province, now called Tien Giang Province.
After being selected into the Hue Imperial Palace, she asked her maid to bring young that lat fish from her village to raise it in a pond located in the back of her imperial palace near Hue’s An Cuu market, said Cat.
She said in the past, to make grilled chopped fish, locals often minced the entire fish (including its bones) because they thought the fish bone could help to add calcium and make their body healthier.
They also made the dish tougher (not be broken) by stuffing carefully before balling and grilling it.
“Hue people considered the fish among the most healthy dishes compared with other fishes,” Cat said, adding that in winter, housewives often cooked that lat fish hotpot to warm up their bodies while in summer, they cooked steamed chopped fish soup with bitter gourd, which became very nutritious dishes for both elderly and children.
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