Locals in Quang Ngai use fish paste as main ingredients for many different dishes including steamed fish paste, rice paper stuffed with fish paste, porridge with fish paste, and rice noodles with fish paste.
Fish paste can be made from many species of fish, from the expensive to popular common ones, with each of them producing a different type of fish paste.
However, no matter what species of fish is used, it must be fresh so that the final dish will have rich favour and juicy and chewy texture.
To prepare for the dish, the cook must clean the fish and scoop out its innards. The head, dorsal fin and tail are then cut off while the skin and bones are removed entirely. The cook adds seasonings and other ingredients into the fish, including several spoons of fish sauce, salt, pepper, and garlic. All of them are put into a stone mortar within which the cook crushes the mixture of fish and other ingredients into a fine paste with a wooden pestle.
The grinding process is the most time-consuming and important step. Although meat grinder mincing machines are now popular in today’s life, local cooks still do this step manually, which helps them “feel” the paste in the most effective way.
After the grinding process, the cook divides the paste into small flat cakes, which can now be used to cook many dishes. The cakes can be deep-fried with oil until it turns a pleasant yellow colour. They can also be pasted onto rice papers or cooked with vegetables.