Spain has helped Vietnam develop its tourism in a sustainable manner and in line with set orientations, according to participants at a ceremony in Hanoi on May 21.
Coal ovens blaze day and night grilling mudfish in shops on Tan Ky Tan Quy and Truong Chinh streets in Ho Chi Minh City.
The shops jostle for attention with signs as red as the coal in the ovens as the alluring smell of grilled fish wafts in the air.
But unlike most other street establishments, these shops in Tan Phu District only do takeouts. In that sense they aren’t so much “shops” as a grilled-mudfish market that offers locals a great alternative dish.
The shops grill the fish in almost the same simple way as it is done in the countryside, the only difference being they use coal ovens instead of a burning heap of straw.
The ovens are large enough to grill seven or eight fish weighing almost a kilogram each.
The outer skin is burnt until pitch black and removed by hand or with a stick to reveal another golden–brown layer of skin underneath.
The fish are then put back on the oven over low heat, sprinkled with shallot grease, and left there to marinate.
Street shops preferred
Restaurants too serve grilled mudfish, which is in fact an expensive dish. But street shops attract customers because of their friendly and quick service.
Accompanied by the same side dishes and dips like unripe bananas, sour carambola, vermicelli, rice paper, fresh vegetables, and fish sauce, the fish sold on the streets is in no way inferior to what is served in the restaurants.
Despite the use of a simple grilling technique, making mudfish is demanding work. For instance, to burn the outer skin completely, the cooks have to carefully turn the fish whiles also ensuring they are done in exactly five-minute intervals.
Removing the burnt skin is also hard work, especially since it is done at the same time as sprinkling the shallot grease and packing them for customers.
The fish are made using sugarcane instead of iron grates. As a result the sweet juice is absorbed by the meat. Shop owners sometimes put a crushed citronella stem in the fish’s stomach to neutralize its smell.
After grilling, the fish are taken off the sugarcane, placed in silver foil, sprinkled with shallot grease and crushed peanuts, and packed in a paper bag.
Some shops do not use sugarcane and stick to iron, which is more convenient since on busy days the fish can be half-grilled in advance and re-grilled when there is an order. But whatever grill is used, ensuring the fish are properly done is not an easy task.
Try this excellent dish and you will discover that however mudfish is grilled, it is a quintessential dish of the southern waterways.