Just like every year, a few weeks before Tet, Dai Hoang villagers in northern Ha Nam province have had their hands full processing and traditionally braising fish - a Tet delicacy - and distributing them across the country.
Also known as Vu Dai or Nhan Hau village in Ly Nhan district, the village is home to a large number of households who cherish the time-honored tradition.
According to the owner of Phong Thuc braised fish shop, a few weeks prior to Tet they begin braising hundreds of fish pots to cater to the surging local demand.
A long time ago, lacking meat for Tet celebrations, villagers would turn to fish, which was quite abundant in the region.
Although Vietnamese people’s living standards have seen notable improvements in recent years, meaning Tet feasts are now laden with pork, beef and chicken, braised fish remains fixed on the Tet menu, adding variety and offering a different healthier option than that of braised pork.
Tran Xuan Thuc, chair of Nhan Hau Braised Fish Production and Processing Association has spent more than 15 years in the profession with the hope of providing locals, including gourmets with this rustic dish.
He added that in order to give the delicacy its special taste, clay to make the pots is taken from central Nghe An province to ensure no cracks or damage during the nearly 24 hour braising process. The specially designed lid of the pot is dome shaped and fetched from Thanh Hoa province, it is believed to facilitate the cooking.
Before cooking, pots must be boiled for hours on end to remove all the dirt, as without this process, the pot of braised fish will surely fail. Spices will permeate the pot, leaving the fish insipid or not equally tasty, as explained by Tran Thi Hoa, who has braised fish for several years.
After cleansing the clay pots, locals put thinly sliced galingale at the bottom of the pots before putting the fish in to keep them from burning.
The most popular choice of fish for the delicacy is “ca tram den” (black carp), which are around 2-3 years old and weigh around 3-5kg. The fish boasts the most delicious flesh among freshwater fish species in the Northern Delta.
The fish should be cooked over longan firewood, as the wood expels the smell of terracotta and adds a special fragrance to the fish. Spices such as galangal, ginger, lemon juice and bitter candy are administered with the specifications depending on families’ recipes.
The finished fish is supposed to be brownish black and boasts toned flesh yet soft bones. Not much of the fish will be wasted. Though the dish has no preservatives, the village’s braised fish can stay fresh for up to 10 days thanks to the special braising techniques and fresh spices.
Ta Quang Trong from Ninh Binh province said that he has fallen in love with the treat since his first try five years ago. He has ordered several pots of braised fish from the village for every Tet since.
Pots of braised fish from Dai Hoang village currently fetch around VND500,000-1,500,000 (up to US$71) apiece, dependant on the amount of pots purchased each year. The delicacy makes a mouth-watering dish for Tet get-togethers and a great gift for the occasion.