Sashimi-like salad offered in Thanh Hoa

HCMC - Nga Son District in Thanh Hoa Province in the north has a popular raw fish salad whose main ingredient is ca nhech, or nhech fish (pisodonophis boro)—a local eel-like fish, which lives in paddy fields, is very elusive and is thus hard to catch.

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A plate of nhech fish salad served with herbs and a bowl of its sauce

The fish’s excellent flesh is the main ingredient used for many dishes. Arguably the most common amongst them is ca nhech salad. The best version of the specialty can be found in Nga Son District, Thanh Hoa Province.

According to local cooks, aside from the flesh of the eel-like fish, a special sauce whose recipe is a secret and a variety of herbs are the soul of their specialty.

To start with, a cook must get rid ot the fish’s stink. Then, the flesh is cut into fillets that will be next wrapped in thính (ground roasted rice) which also helps remove the remaining stinky smell. That’s all for the flesh. The reason why the bad smell of the fish must be got out carefully is the fillets covered with roasted rice are to be eaten raw, just like the way Japan’s sashimi is.

The salad cannot be done without its special sauce. This sauce, called chẻo in the local dialect, is in fact a mixture of ground nhech fish bones, ginger, chili, pepper and lemongrass.

The herbs served with the salad include mo leaves (Paederia foetida), fig leaves, dinh lang leaves (Polycias fruticosa), cuc tan (Pluchea indica), rau ngo (Limnophila aromatic), and other seasonal plans.

Diners often choose the biggest leaves among the herbs to wrap the sliced fillets. Add sauce to the roll and you will have everything ready.