Nature has particularly bounteous in the southern province of Hau Giang, providing water loaded with minerals that is home to the most delicious thac lac fish (clown knife fish) compared with other regions in the country. The flesh is fragrant, firm and crisp-skinned.
Cha ca thac lac - the famous specialty in Hau Giang
Cha ca thac lac (fried thac lac fish), one of specialties of Hau Giang, is a dish every visitor should try when visiting the southern province.
The dish is the pride of Hau Giang people, according to Huynh Th Phuong, 66, who has sold the fish for several decades. "I sell several hundreds of cha ca thac lac a day to locals and visitors, including foreigners,” said Phuong.
She said that to make a good dish, she often woke up early in the morning to go to the seashore to buy fresh fish - meaning the meat is firm, the eyes look pure and green while the gills are light red. “Fish with red eyes, and soft meat is not suitable for making cha,” said Phuong.
The fish can be made into soup with bitter gourd, steamed, braised, fried and used in hotpots. Phuong said cha ca thac lac was available in restaurants and at luxury parties. It was also a good gift for relatives and friends.
Hanoian Bui Thu Nga told Vietnam News that she was happy to join Phuong make the dish by cutting off all the lean meat and then mixing it with dried onions, garlic, peppers, MSG, sugar and salt to clear out any fishy smell for an hour. It is then placed in a stone grinder and regularly pounded until the meat is thick and pink-while before shaping it into small balls and frying them until they turn yellow.
“The dish should be eaten with rau ngo (rice paddy) and mui tau (sawtooth) to add taste,” said Phuong. Apart from cha ca, she also invited Nga to enjoy thac lac fish hotpot with bitter gourd. “It is a great dish that you should try,” she added.
How to make it
Ingredients include broth stewed from pork bones, vegetables and herbs, but spinach and rau dot choai (a local herb). They are all tossed into the broth for five minutes before eating.
The hotpot is eaten with vermicelli or noodles. The crispy and sweet fish is dipped into a bowl of fish sauce with chili. It’s unforgettable.
“I really enjoy the aroma of the broth, herbs, and crispy bitter gourd. I think all gourmets would fall for it," said Nga. Nga is right. My family also enjoyed the dish as she gave me a package of steamed cha ca thac lac, telling me to fry it before eating.
She also taught me to cook one more dish made from the fish. It is crispy fried thac lac fish mixed with chili and sa (lemongrass). The fish cut into pieces and mixed with spices and citronella for an hour and then dry it under the sunlight for half an hour before frying. "No one can hold his/her appetite when its fragrant and aromatic flavored flying around," she said.
The dish is very suitable at a reception of visitors or sipping a glass of wine, Nga said.
Herbalist Nguyen Van Tuat of the National Hospital of Traditional Medicine, said stewed thac lac fish with bitter gourd helped cool the heat from inside the body. He said it was good for patients with blood hypertension, diabetes, cholesterol and loss a sleep.
Because it is sweet and has no strong elements it is also very good for blood circulation and the kidneys. And, last but not least, it helps reduce pain from patients with rheumatism, and laxatives.
Minced thac lac fish is particularly good for slow growing children, pregnant women and weak elderly people.
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