Life Life

15/11/2018 - 07:52

Delicious catfish sour soup

While the whole family was having dinner, Dad said: "Tomorrow Uncle Nam will come to visit us from Saigon. I’m going to the market to buy some catfish to treat him.” Mom looked at us smiling, as she knew we were going to have a good meal of catfish sour soup with noodles.

 Good smell of catfish sour soup pervading the kitchen

The next morning, at about 8 a.m., my father ran to Huong Ho Market in Kim Long. Only in this market could he get freshwater catfish. Catfish for this soup must be alive; dead fish smell bad and do not give good flesh. Dad was lucky enough to find some that day. 

Freshwater catfish are rare. In order to catch them, one has to use shrimps as bait. This kind of fish is typically light yellow in color and delicious, thanks to its sweet and firm flesh. Seeing Dad home with the fish, Mom said he was lucky because she had gone to the market many times but had failed to get any. Dad smiled, saying that Uncle Nam was lucky too. Dad rolled up his sleeves and started cooking. Mom admitted that she could not make this dish as well as Dad. 

My father started to prepare the fish for cooking. He threw away the gills and the gall bladder, but kept the intestines, since they are as tough and delicious as intestines of snakeheads in bánh canh (a kind of noodle soup.) After cutting the fish in half, he washed it with a handful of salt, some wine and ginger to lessen the fishy smell.

When the fish was ready, Dad added pepper, shallot, fish sauce and monosodium glutamate, respectively. He said much pepper and shallot would eliminate the fishy smell. While waiting for the fish to absorb spices, he began to slice pineapple and tomato. Besides, there were fermented bamboo shoot, spring onion, coriander, culantro, and especially a crushed chili. All were prepared by my father.

While waiting for my elder brother to fetch Uncle Nam, in the kitchen, Dad started the fire. He fried shallot with some gac oil (made from spiny bitter gourd) for color, then added the fish. Next, he flooded the fish with water, then covered the pot.

After that, he added fermented bamboo shoot, pineapple and tomato and waited until the mixture got boiled again, then threw in some green chilli and herbs before turning off the fire. The good smell of the soup pervading the kitchen and spreading to the living room made us feel very hungry. 

I helped Dad with the vegetables, put the noodles on the plates and set up the table. In the process, I also secretly learned how to cook the dish so that one day I would make it for Dad. After washing up, Uncle Nam joined us at the table on which were plates of catfish sour soup, the food he enjoyed very much every time he was in Hue.

Uncle Nam took a bite and said: “To tell the truth, I always miss this soup in Ho Chi Minh City. I have never found better soup anywhere so far.” Dad smiled with satisfaction.

Story and photo: NAM GIAO