The ‘rice bowl’ of Vietnam, the Mekong Delta is a landscape carpeted in a dizzying variety of greens and slashed with mighty waterways. It’s a water world where boats, houses, restaurants and even markets float upon the innumerable rivers, canals and streams that flow through the region like arteries. At times you can quite simply lose sight of land.
In this land, the water is the veins of life. And also in Mekong, there are some cuisines that you should never miss when you are in this wonderful region.
1. Danio dangila fish soup pot and Legume
When the rain starts to fall and the water starts to rise, the fishes from the upstream will also travel down to the flat land to lay eggs. The baby dangilas are small and their meat is fresh and juicy. The fat fresh fish will be cleaned, gutted and re-cleaned with hot water and dried.
Depends on the region that the broth of the soup is cooked in so many different ways. Some regions boil the pig’s bones, some reused the fish bone to extract the sweetness, and some use the coconut milk to create a tender sweetness. The other important part of this dish is the legume. The recent-picked legume and other type of vegetable will be put together into the boiling broth.
(Danio dangila fish soup pot and Legume. Photo: Thanh Tuyet)
2. Wooden-barrel grilled paddy field mice
The Mekong special cuisine that not many tourists have the courage to try. The mice that use to cook the dish are those have eaten the rice, so they are fat and rich in flavor. They are cleaned, marinated in spices for about 15 minutes, and then they will be hooked into the barrel. As the mice are being rotated, the chef will add in some grease, some spices until the mice are cooked, or have the color yellow. The meat is eaten with cucumber, lakas leaves, salt and chili. The meat is delicious, the skin is crunchy and the smell is awfully good.
(The special dish challenges the courage of tourists. Photo: Thanh Tuyet)
3. Braised Gobies and Danio dangila with coconut milk
In the rising season, the gobies and dangila can be found in any marketplace. The best ways to make these fishes even more delicious are to braise them with pepper and coconut milk. The fishes are cleaned, marinated with spices, braised in a clay pot, added in coconut milk, and cooked on small fire. The dishes are eaten with white rice. Simple yet flavorful, just like the people of Mekong, simple but full of hospitality.
(The delicious braised dangila. Photo: Thanh Tuyet)
4. Nimtree and Snakeskin Gourami salad
Nimtree, also called Indian Lilac, is a tree native to India and the Indian subcontinent including Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Typically growing in tropical and semi-tropical regions. Neem trees now also grow in islands in the southern part of Iran. Its fruits and seeds are the source of Neem oil.
The young leaves and flowers of the Indian Lilac will be cleaned with hot water to reduce the bitterness, and they are all left to dry. The salad also needs sliced, bite-size cucumber, the sliced mangoes. The grilled or fried Gourami is shredded; the bacon is boiled and then sliced as well. All are mixed with some spices. The tamarind sauce is very simple: the tamarind (filtered) is cooked until it has the texture like caramel. The first bite can be bitter, but because of the sauce, the flavor can be bitter, sour and sweet at the same time.
(The typical dish of the Mekong area)
5. Vietnamese pancake and legume
The cake is made from the rice flour, mixed with the coconut milk; add in some turmeric flour so the cake can have the yellowish outside. The inside is minced pork and legume. The legume pancake has the extensive flavors of turmeric, coconut milk, pork, shrimp, grease, cilantro, garlic, onion, pepper, many other ingredients, and of course the legume. The cake is served along with other vegetables like Lagerstroemia, mango bud…
(The bucolic with the legume in the inside that can only be found in the rising season. Photo: Tien Hung)
6. Braised Bagridae with pineapple
Bagridae is a type of catfish, living in the bottom of the rivers in Mekong Delta. They usually emerge in the rising season. Pineapples are sliced, and then fried with some spices. The Bagridae is cleaned, braised on the pan full of garlic, red onion, and other ingredients. The fish is cooked on small fire, and then the pineapple is added in. Wait until the fish’s skin is all separated, and then the dish is ready. The Bagridae is fat, and juicy. The dish is served with rice, which helps creating a sense of familiar in this watery region.
(The flavorful braised Bagridae. Photo: laodong)
7. Water- lilies and fish sauce
Water-lilies grow in the field, in the lowland area with mud. When the rising season comes is also the time for lilies to rise with the water. The farmers will collect the lilies, usually intact. They are cleaned from the mud, stripped the outer, sliced into small straw about two inches, and left to dry.
The sauce is usually the dangila sauce or Gourami sauce… The fish’s bone is removed, the lemongrass is added in, then shrimp, then mussels or snakehead fish right the time the sauce is boiled. The final sauce will have the spicy of chili, lemongrass, the sweetness of shrimp, the crunch of the lilies, creating a unique yet bucolic flavor of the Mekong.