The rainy season fills the Mekong Delta with one of the world's tastiest, and smallest fish
Every autumn, the Mekong Delta flood season inundates lower-delta farmers with cá linh, or mud carp fish, tasty little freshwater treats that flow in from the upper reaches of the delta.
When cá linh comes to Saigon, cooks often combine the fish with coconut milk for stewing
The whole season long the tiny fish is available at every market and is cooked into the poorest and most lavish meals. Everyone seems to love eating its meat: young and old, rich and poor, men and women.
The smaller varieties of the fish, only as big as the tip of a chopstick, are called cá linh non, or the baby mud carp fish.
The baby fish is sweet, fleshy and fatty. The fish has almost no bones, and those it does have are tiny and edible.
The most popular way people enjoy mud carp is by turning it into caramelized fish sauce. This way is very simple but tastes wonderful.
One can also prepare a simple and delicious dish from the baby fish by stewing it. Serve the tasty stew with plain rice and you've got a cheap local delicacy.
To prepare the stew, one only needs to clean the fish and remove its bile. It's many small scales needn't be removed. Then soak it in salt water and stew it.
It's also great to steam the fish with ginger. The meat becomes soft and flavorful and can be rolled with rice paper and herbs like garlic chives and water lily.
Sour soup with mud carp is also very popular. The fish can be prepared in sour soup with bông Ä‘iên Ä‘iá»ƒn (flower of sesbania sesban). The yellow flower and the slightly bitter taste of the fish is unique and unforgettable.
Apart from the flower of sesbania sesban, one can prepare the fish in a sour soup by combining it with water lily, or bông so Ä‘ũa (sesbania grandiflora flower). The hot soup mixes with the flavor from the herbs and tamarind to create an irresistible scent and flavor.
The baby fish can also be stewed with sugar-cane. The cane makes the fish extra soft and the dish is best served up with bread.
In another way, the fish can be stewed in a clay pot with some chili. The spiciness provides the perfect balance to a plate of fragrant white rice.
The fish can be finely chopped into powder that can be used as a soup base or as a flavor enhancer for fried or sautéed dishes.
But due to the overabundance of the fish during the flood season, farmers most often use their overstock to make fish sauce.
To prepare the fish sauce, they fill a jar with cleaned fish, add a lot of salt and place the jar outside in the sun for three days. Then more salt is added and the jar is covered and sealed with a tight lid.
After three months, water is added to the jar and it is cooked and then filtered into the sauce we see on our dinner tables.
When the fish sauce comes to Saigon, cooks often combine it with coconut milk for stewing. The coconut milk softens the bitter taste of the salt.