Golden hairfin anchovy are more tasty when combined with freshwater mangrove sprouts
For the people of the Central region, the freshwater mangrove trees are familiar and can be found on the porch and in the garden. They blossom bright red bunches when the season comes. When the freshwater mangrove flowers fall down, a corner of the yard is covered with a red carpet.
After the freshwater mangrove flowers have all fallen, clusters of dangling fruit begin to appear. The fruits look exactly like tiny lanterns, swaying gently in the wind.
Freshwater mangrove sprouts is a delicious food with a distinct flavor - a little bit bitter and sour with a faint herbal smell. Therefore, young freshwater mangrove leaves become a delicious vegetable, served with meat and fish, especially great when combined with hairfin anchovy.
The flatfish in Vietnamese is “cá lẹp”, which implies a very thin body, not as thin as a flounder, but it is not much thicker. The hairfin anchovy is clean, very fatty and live near the shore. So many people thank the sea for the small but delicious fish. It is no less delicious than the expensive fish.
To prepare the dish, first wash the fish clean and make a fire to grill the fish. On the bright red charcoal, the fish soon change color.
The scents of the sea and of the fish fill the air. The golden fish skin becomes even more appetizing when lighted charred. The hairfin anchovy cooks quickly. When the skin is gently removed, the white flesh of the fish appears.
The sauce to eat with the dish is a sweet and sour fish sauce. To make an excellent sauce, squeeze a lime vigorously, crush some garlic, add a handful of hot chili and a pinch the sugar, and pour in the fragrant fermented fish sauce.
Pick a few freshwater mangrove sprouts to enjoy with the hairfin anchovy and tell the stories of the fishermen battling the rough seas. The best way to thank the brave fishermen for giving everyone the seafood that they catch is to appreciate the products they catch.
The joy of this dish is to wrap the fish in the young freshwater mangrove leaves. By themselves, the fish would be too fatty and rich; and the sprouts would be sour, bitter and rather unpleasant.
Yet when a little piece of fish is rolled in the reddish leaf and dipped into the bowl of fish sauce, an indescribable taste of deliciousness is the result. The bitterness is gone, and the excess fat is gone.
Hairfin anchovy with freshwater mangrove sprouts harmonize the sweetness of the fish meat, the spicy taste of chili, the freshness and special sour taste of the sprouts. After finishing the whole dish of fish and sprouts, you will still crave for more of this taste.
My hometown is in the coastal area. In the summer, the scoring foehn wind from Laos blows on the white sand. The rainy season is long and rough. Yet gentle on the sand, the canopy of freshwater mangrove trees still quietly blossoms and give fruits. Then in season, they sprout young leaves, and the people of the sea begin to thank the heavens again for giving them such a specialty called hairfin anchovy with freshwater mangrove sprouts.
Story and photos: MAI HUE