‘Thac lac’ fish, a specialty and pride of Hau Giang
Thac lac fish cooked with bitter gourd is very good to cool down heat from inside the body and helps to improve weak patients (Photo: VNA)
Nature has particularly
bounteous in the Mekong Delta 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 (fried thac lac 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, 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
Hanoian Bui Thu Nga said 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
“The dish should be eaten with rau ngo (coriander) 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.
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 NguyenVan 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. - VNA