|That lat fish. Source: Internet
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 (also called thac lac fish in some places).
Locals feel pride in these fish. The fish’s aromatic flavor has created many characteristic 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 ground 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 HCM City 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 flavour, 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.
|That lat fish balls cooked with bitter gourd is very good to cool down heat from inside the body and helps to improve weak patients. Photo: VNA
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.
|The Vietnam Records Organisation (Vietkings) in July 2022 recognises the Mekong Delta province of Hau Giang as holding an event which witnessed the most strabismus fish and pineapple-made dishes produced at one time.
It is not difficult to raise that lat fish because they are able to live in estuaries, canals, ponds, fields, coastal brackish lagoons and even in an environment lacking oxygen and having a low PH rate. The breeding season of this species of fish starts from May to July and the harvest time lasts from October to February.
That Lat Cuom (Nopterus) is a precious species which is listed in Vietnam’s Red Book. Although this species is raised in Hau Giang for some years, it promises to become a potential for economic development in this province.
Cha ca that lat (fried that lat fish), one of specialties of Hau Giang, is a dish every visitor should try when visiting the province. The dish is the pride of Hau Giang people, according to Huynh Thi Phuong, who has sold the fish for several decades.
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 flesh is fragrant, firm and crisp-skinned.
The fish can be made into soup with bitter gourd, steamed, braised, fried and used in hotpots. Phuong said cha ca that lat was available in restaurants and at luxury parties. It was also a good gift for relatives and friends.
Herbalist Nguyen Van Tuat of the National Hospital of Traditional Medicine, said stewed that lat 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 that lat fish is particularly good for slow-growing children, pregnant women and weak elderly people.