“Tết, tết tết đến rồi” (Tet holiday is coming) – When the melodies of spring are sounded in Dat Mui, Ca Mau people are busy starting the preparation for the food in Tet. To the heart of Camauese, the cuisines in Tet are made of by not only fatty meat, pickled vegetables, Tét cake (sticky rice cake), … but also the taste of dried shrimp and fish such as dried mudskipper fish, dried bombay duck fish, dried snakeskin gourami, etc, which constitutes indispensable part in each Vietnamese family.
Dried snakeskin gourami – a speciality in Ca Mau
The special geographic location has given Ca Mau with U Minh Ha forest where many large freshwater fields and dense forests gave birth to algae, creating a favorable environment for the snakeskin gourami fish to grow and develop. Because of the abundant volume, snakeskin gourami fish are very common to the life of people in this area. The fish can be cooked by many ways such as braising, cooking sour soup, deep frying, .. and especially they can be dried to preserve longer. U Minh Ha dried snakeskin gourami has become one of the most prominent trademarks in Ca Mau, being certified as a collective trademark by the National Office of Intellectual Property, Ministry of Science and Technology in 2011.
The scientific name of dried snakeskin is trichogaster pectoralis, a fish of freshwater family, is normally called wild fish in Mekong Delta. Featured by the large back with lots of meat, snakeskin are more suitable for making dried fish than deep drying or braising. The process of making dried fish is quite simple but requires the carefulness in timing for turning the fish so that they evenly absorb the sunlight. When the fish is fresh, remove scales and intestines and then wash. The fish are then soaked in salt water for about 2 hours with a rate of about 3kg salt/ 10 kg. The soaking time may be more or less depending on the preferred taste of the consumers. The fish are rinsed one more time before drying under the sun. When the sunlight is good, the drying step can be completed within 2 times, producing the best taste. The sunlight in the last days of the year is the most suitable time for drying fish. Another secret is to align the fish into straight lines and put heavy things on top to make the meat sturdy and stiff and not bruised.
According to Mrs. Muoi (Muoi Ngot Tourist Site, Khanh Binh Tay Bac Commune, Tran Van Thoi District), “in the dry season when the water is drained, it is easy to catch snakeskin gourami, commonly by “chụp đìa” (A method of using net to catch fish in ponds). The fish feed naturally so their meat is very delicious”. Therefore, dried snakeskin gourami in Ca Mau has fragant aroma mixed with a slightly salt taste. The fish is not very tough but not friable; with a fatty layer in the belly combining with the red meat producing a very mouthwatering dish. The dried fish can be cooked into different dishes such as grilling served with rice, frying with tamarind fish sauce served with pickled scallion; making salad with green mango. These foods can be ideally combined with some glasses of wine or beer.
Dried snakeskin gourami is food with delicious taste, being easy to prepare and to preserve at a reasonable price. The food has been favored by many tourists and the choice of many households in Vietnamese traditional Tet holiday.
Photo and article by: Dương Kim Chuyển