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14/05/2020 - 19:21

Fish salad for entertaining guests

The Ta Oi people (A Luoi district) only make fish salad whenever Tet holiday comes, or when they have important guests. This is because the fish used for making the salad must be big, not the usual small ones often caught in the stream when they go to work on upland fields. Therefore, it is rare for this fish salad to appear in their daily meals.

Eye-catching fish salad

Ms. Ho Thi Hong, a Ta Oi woman, said that it is not difficult to make fish salad, but to make excellent fish salad is not simple because it requires meticulousness and skills of the cook. If the processing is not skillful, the salad will be fishy, unpalatable and will lack the flavor of the mountains.

According to Ms. Hong, people often choose a big fish to make salad because it would have more flesh, less bones and be less fishy. Pieces of sliced fish will not break apart easily. Carp raised in the lake is often the best option.

To make the salad, fish must first be cleaned; then salted for a while to reduce the odor. Next the fish must be washed thoroughly and filleted by  using a sharp knife. To make sure the fish is not fishy when processing, people also use a clean cloth to wrap the fish fillets for a while to completely drain the fish. Then they slice the fish into pieces with the thickness of the tip of the chopsticks.

Slicing fish also needs special skills. Slice the fish too thick and it will be difficult to absorb spices, but too thin and the fish will be crushed when tossed. Once the fish is sliced and put into a bowl, squeeze in some lime juice and let it sit for a while.

While waiting for the fish to be done, the Ta Oi woman will prepare supplementing spices. In addition to the freshness of the fish meat, the characteristics of this fish salad also come from accompanying ingredients, which always bear the highland identity.

A handful of upland glutinous rice is roasted to a golden color on a charcoal stove until a fragrant smell wafts around the house. If there is sesame on the upland field, add some. Forest pepper, forest chili, forest galangal are all well crushed. They must be gathered from the forest to have a unique delicious aroma and a spicy but not too overwhelming taste.

If available, add some oriental onions (allium chinense) from the upland field. And of course, to add the flavor of the mountains, bắt leaves are indispensable. It is a kind of leaves picked in the forest and has its very own unique fragrance.

When all the ingredients are ready, the fish in the bowl would also be ready after soaking in the acidity of the lemon. Just squeeze the fish very dry, then add all the spices, add a pinch of salt, monosodium glutamate and mix well. The fish salad is complete.

A delicious fish salad must have a mild sour taste, the sweetness of the fish meat, fragrance of roasted glutinous rice, spiciness of chili, galangal and pepper blend together with the sweet fragrance of forest leaves. All of the ingredients harmonize, creating such a sense of delight that is difficult to put into words. Just with one bite, the tasty, rich, sour, salty taste is deposited right at the tip of the tongue, awakening all the taste buds.

Fish salad is best when eaten right after processing, so that the flavor of the dish remains intact. People often eat fish salad with sticky rice or white rice. But sometimes it is only accompanied by sips of straw liquor or a cup of wine made from sticky rice by the fire in the middle of the house.

So, if you have the opportunity, go to A Luoi and be the guests in a Ta Oi family. The homeowner will surely not hesitate to make fish salad to treat guests from afar. Sitting by the flaming fire in the highland chilly evening, tasting some fish salad and sipping a cup of wine is an extremely interesting experience that you should not miss.

Story and photo: NGOC LINH