Vu Dai village, also known as Dai Hoang village, in Ha Nam province, is famous for an age-old specialty - braised fish in earthenware pots.
When the Lunar New Year approaches, very villager is busy preparing braised fish for customers in Vietnam and abroad.
The households in Vu Dai village raise and braise fish all year round, but the Tet Lunar New Year is the biggest fish braising season of the year. Every day the village sells tons of fish. The sweet smell of braised fish is strong all over the village, people laugh and chat beside the cooking fires. Customers from across the nation flock to Vu Dai to buy the specialty as Tet gifts.
Tran Luan fish braising workshop (Photo: Ngoc Anh/VOV5)
Vu Dai villager Tran Thi Ngan says “Near the Tet holiday we receive orders every day to make 150 pots of braised fish. On normal days we make a maximum of 100 pots. During this season, we are busy round the clock.
The most popular fish include black carp, grass carp, and mud carp. Last year on the 29th day of the last lunar month, there were customers ordering braised fish. Recently my relatives in Ninh Binh province bought 5 pots of braised fish to take them to Malaysia. Our braised fish is unique. Even if people from other regions learned our secret recipes, they would find it difficult to make the same product.”
Braised fish made in Vu Dai village requires many steps to create. Each family has their own secrets handed down from generation to generation. But what makes the dish stand out is the use of clay pots for braising.
Villager Tran Thi Ngan says “Before cooking, the bottoms of earthenware pots must be coated with a layer of lime and then boiled for many times.”
According to villagers, the wood used to braise the fish should be from longan trees mixed with rice husk because it will help remove the muddy odour from the pot and give the fish the most attractive flavor.
The fish should be black carp, only the fish’s body, not the head or tail. Each portion is about 1 kilo. The fish should be fed on snails. Ground alpinia, ginger, lemon juice, sauce from ground freshwater crab, and some herbs are among the indispensable spices for braised fish in the village. The spices are made up in a certain proportion depending on each family’s secret.
Nguyen Van Tam, the owner of Nhan Hau fish braising workshop in Vu Dai village, says “Creating ground freshwater crab sauce is the key to having a delicious pot of braised fish. The crab is pickled for 12 months and then decanted for the first extract. Experienced cooks can tell how much ground freshwater crab sauce is needed for one kilo of fresh fish. Black carp should be raised between 6 months and a year. The smallest fish should weigh about 5kg so that it í mature and firm. The fish is simmered for 12 to 14 hours. The fire should be kept at a low level so that the fish is well braised with spices of all kinds soaked it, making it tasty and with a unique flavor.
The busiest fish braising season often lasts around 10 days, beginning from Kitchen God Day on the 23rd day of the last lunar month to 2 days before Tet. These days, all villagers work at full capacity but have never fully met the market demand. Vu Dai village’s signature dish has been introduced to the world.
Tran Ba Luan, head of Tran Luan fish braising workshop, says “Vietnamese from the US, France, Germany, and Russia often come to our village to buy braised fish pots for Tet gifts. We have made 16 pots of braised fish for customers travelling to South Korea. On weekdays, we make from 50 to 100 pots. Our workshop of nearly 500 m2 is not large enough and we don’t have enough workers. Thus we have never met the market needs during Tet season. We only can make up to 1,100 pots a day but the orders reach nearly 3,000 pots a day.”
Braised fish is one of Vietnam’s favorite traditional dishes and selected for Tet holiday. Vu Dai village’s specialty has contributed to enriching Vietnamese cuisine.