Phu Quoc's staple dish offers a triumphant marriage of fresh and fermented flavors
Goi ca trich (herring salad) served at Tieu Ngu Restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City. The dish can be found on the menu of every seaside shack and luxury restaurants in Phu Quoc.
Nestled in the Gulf of Thailand, just off the southern coast of Cambodia, Phu Quoc in Kien
Giang Province is often described as Vietnam's "pearl island."
Indeed, Phu Quoc is prized for its unspoiled beaches and stunning natural vistas. Every year, hordes of international tourists flock to explore its red clay back roads and pristine beaches.
Few of them know, however, that one of Vietnam's most tranquil spots is also home to some of its most pungent flavors.
Phu Quoc is a major producer of nuoc mam (fish sauce), but it also turns out some deliciously fishy dishes.
It would be a pity to visit the island without tasting goi ca trich (herring salad).
The residents of Phu Quoc fish all year long. So it's no surprise that a kind of Vietnamese ceviche serves as the island staple.
Many families toss fresh-caught herring with lemon juice, chopped chilies and thinly sliced onions for lunch or dinner.
Herring is notorious for its fishiness. But the freshness of Phu Quoc's terrestrial ingredients balances the pungent fish flavors wonderfully.
Locals wrap the "salad" in the island's thick and pliant rice paper. Fresh forest vegetables and shredded coconut are also rolled into the mix.
Once rolled, these delicious items are typically dipped into the local fish sauce which is made entirely from anchovies. Nuoc mam Phu Quoc is prized for its "cockroach wing color," mild flavor and year-long fermentation process, which begins on the boat, the moment the fish are caught.
Customers can enjoy authentic herring salad at the following restaurants:
"¢ In Phu Quoc (Kien Giang Province)
Cua Lap Hamlet, Duong To Commune
Number 3, 30 Thang 4 Street, Duong Dong Town
Quarter 1, 30 Thang 4 Street, Duong Dong Town
"¢ In Ho Chi Minh City:
780 Su Van Hanh Street, Ward 12, District 10
Goi ca trich is typically served with a dipping bowl of finely-ground chili, garlic and roasted peanuts floating in a splash of the island's fish sauce.
While the prospect of eating semi-raw herring may daunt some diners, the combination of flavors here should put you at ease. When properly rolled up with all the fixings, the herring tastes crisp and sweet and the vegetables add a pleasant crunch. The fresh coconut meat is usually the greasiest part of the roll!
Goi ca trich can be found on the menu of every seaside shack and luxury restaurant in Phu Quoc.
Thanks to a boom in tourism, the dish has made its way to Ho Chi Minh City.
Herring junkies in the southern hub should consider paying a visit to Tieu Ngu Restaurant, which features 30 herring dishes on its menu.
How do you wash down fish salad?
Sim (rose myrtle fruit) may offer the best compliment to the salty spice of goi ca trich.
The wine is derived from ripe myrtle fruits, which grow wild in Phu Quoc's primitive forests. The fruits have a guava-like flavor, and are chock full of sugar and seeds.
Sim wine is typically made by grinding the fruits with sugar, and letting them ferment until the liquid turns a lush pink.
Because of its sweetness and low alcohol content, sim wine is typically a ladies' drink. But when eating fermented fishy things, it is suitable for everyone.