Vietnam travel is famous not only for enchanting landscapes and rich heritage but also for its amazing cuisine. One of its culinary treasures lies in its fish dishes, each brimming with unique flavors. Join us on a delightful journey through the vibrant tapestry of Vietnamese fish dishes, spanning from north to south.
1. Famous Vietnamese fish dishes originating in the northern region
Northern Vietnam, a region steeped in cultural heritage and scenic beauty, boasts a culinary scene as diverse as its landscapes. Let’s find out more about the Vietnamese fish dishes originating in this region,
1.1. Vu Dai braised fish (Ca kho lang Vu Dai)
Originating from Ha Nam, Vu Dai braised fish is a culinary gem. This dish, meticulously crafted using black carp and pork belly, marries the flavors of countryside spices. Through a labor-intensive process, the dish transforms into a pot of aromatic delights. The fish, tender yet robust, beautifully complements the earthy tones of the pork belly, creating a symphony of flavors that captivates the senses of many.
1.2. Vietnamese turmeric fish (Cha ca La Vong)
Trying out Cha ca La Vong is a must-do for many visitors going on their Hanoi travel. Dating back to 1871, this famous Vietnamese fish dish is a testament to Hanoi's culinary legacy. Crafted from the finest catfish, it undergoes a meticulous preparation process, resulting in exquisite flavors and tender textures. The delicate deboning of the fish, coupled with the aromatic blend of fresh dill and turmeric, transforms turmeric fish into a culinary masterpiece. Served alongside rice noodles, aromatic herbs, and piquant shrimp paste, this dish is loved by many Vietnamese generations.
1.3. Quynh Coi fish soup (Canh ca Quynh Coi)
Quynh Coi fish soup offers a unique fusion of flavors. Comprising slender rice cakes, slices of fresh crucian carp, fish balls, and an array of aromatic herbs, this Vietnamese fish dish epitomizes the essence of Northern Vietnamese food. The rice cakes, when cooked, lend a delightful crunch to the dish, perfectly complementing the tender fish and flavorful broth. The dish’s medley of textures and tastes creates a culinary harmony that leaves a lasting impression on every discerning palate.
2. Mouth-watering Vietnamese fish dishes in the central region
2.1. Vietnamese thick noodle soup with fish cakes (Banh canh cha ca)
Banh canh cha ca is a culinary delight that marries fresh seafood with the comforting embrace of thick noodles. Crafted from a medley of seafood delights, including baby clams, mackerel, and tuna, the fish cakes are meticulously prepared and seasoned, imparting a rich umami flavor. The thick noodles, tender and satisfying, are paired with fragrant fish, fresh herbs, and ground pepper, creating a harmonious balance of tastes and textures. Every spoonful of this Vietnamese fish dish feels like a journey through the coastal flavors of Central Vietnam.
2.2. Pa Pinh Top
This grilled fish dish, locally known as "pa pinh top" or grilled folded fish, involves a meticulous selection of ingredients. The Thai ethnic group often opt for fresh carp left whole for grilling. A blend of aromatic herbs, including wild pepper, ginger, garlic, lemongrass, herbs, and chili powder, is finely chopped and mixed before being stuffed inside the fish, creating a harmonious combination of flavors. After grilling, the fish turns golden brown, emanating a delightful aroma.
2.3. Phu Yen tuna dishes
The coastal paradise of Phu Yen is renowned for its exquisite tuna dishes that showcase the region's affinity for fresh seafood. Sliced tuna sashimi, paired with an assortment of fresh accompaniments such as banana flowers, starfruit, and aromatic herbs, offers a delectable journey through the flavors of the sea. In addition to sashimi, Phu Yen offers tuna eyeballs. This Vietnamese fish dish is marinated with traditional herbs then stewed gently. It is best enjoyed immediately after cooking to preserve its freshness and avoid any fishy taste.
3. Palatable Vietnamese fish dishes you must try in the southern region
Southern Vietnam, a land teeming with culinary wonders, boasts an array of delectable fish dishes that enchant locals and travelers alike.
3.1. Deep-fried elephant ear fish (Ca tai tuong chien xu)
Originating from the heart of the Mekong Delta, deep-fried elephant ear fish, or "ca tai tuong chien xu", is a rustic delicacy adored for its simplicity and exquisite taste. To prepare this Vietnamese fish dish, the fish is meticulously cleaned, retaining its scales. It is then deep-fried to achieve a crispy golden exterior while preserving the tender flavorful meat within. When served, the fish is wrapped in rice paper along with vermicelli and fresh herbs. A variety of dipping sauces such as tamarind sauce, sweet sauce, or fish sauce are used.
3.2. Caramelized fish in a clay pot (Ca kho to)
This common Vietnamese fish dish features common fishes like catfish, tilapia, or snakehead fish expertly cooked in a traditional clay pot. Other ingredients include coconut milk, sugar, and fish sauce, elevated by the aromatic presence of fresh herbs such as scallions, shallots, or sliced garlic. The clay pot plays a vital role in enhancing the dish's flavors. The slow-cooking process in the clay pot allows the fish to absorb the rich essence of the sauce, resulting in a flavorful delight. This dish is often paired with steamed rice and a bowl of sour fish soup.
3.3. Grilled snakehead fish (Ca loc nuong trui)
This Vietnamese fish dish involves skewering snakehead fish with fresh bamboo sticks, allowing it to be grilled over an open flame. The secret lies in the use of dried rice straw, which imparts a smoky aroma to the fish as it grills. The rice straw also ensures that the fish is cooked evenly, making it tender yet firm. Upon grilling, the fish's exterior transforms into a charred smoky crust, concealing the succulent meat within. To savor this delicacy, diners need only to peel off the charred outer layer. Accompanied by fresh lotus leaves or banana leaves, this dish is often dipped into a tangy, spicy, and slightly sweet fish sauce.
4. Popular Vietnamese fish dishes in the three regions
4.1. Vietnamese sweet and sour fish soup (Canh chua ca)
Canh chua ca combines sweet, spicy, and sour flavors harmoniously. This dish features catfish or snakehead fish cooked with tamarind, pineapples, tomatoes, and various local vegetables, creating a refreshing soup ideal for hot summer days. The vibrant colors, from green herbs to red tomatoes and yellow pineapples, make it as visually appealing as it is tasty.
4.2. Vietnamese fish noodles (Bun ca)
Bun ca, a popular type of Vietnamese noodles, varies significantly across the regions in Vietnam, reflecting the distinct local preferences.
- Hanoi: In the bustling streets of Hanoi, bun ca features tender fish slices marinated in spices, served with rice vermicelli, herbs, and a tangy broth made from vinegar and tomatoes. This variation captures the essence of Northern Vietnamese cuisine, balancing bold flavors with delicate textures.
- Hai Phong: Here, the broth takes on a spicier note, complementing the variety of ingredients like fish skin, fish cakes, and fresh vegetables. The fiery kick adds an exciting twist to the dish, making it a favorite among spice enthusiasts.
- Thai Binh: Known for its thick, hearty broth made from simmered pork and fish bones, bun ca in Thai Binh emphasizes the freshness of the fish and the pungent flavor of water spinach. The indulgent broth envelops the senses, providing a soul-soothing dining experience.
- Nha Trang: Nha Trang's version boasts a lighter broth made from simmered fish bones. Served with jellyfish, tender fish slices, and steamed fish cakes, it offers a delicate balance of flavors. The seafood-centric ingredients highlight the coastal influence, making it a must-try for seafood aficionados.
- Phu Quoc (bun quay): A unique rendition from Phu Quoc, this dish includes thinly sliced fish cakes, shrimp cakes, and a variety of seafood.
4.3. Vietnamese fish congee (Chao ca)
Chao ca, a culturally rich dish, is cherished for its comforting taste and regional nuances, embodying the essence of Vietnamese home-cooked meals.
- Hanoi: Hanoi's chao ca features tender fish chunks, succulent pork belly, and various herbs. The combination of flavors, from the sweetness of fish to the richness of pork, creates a delightful culinary experience.
- Bac Ninh: Bac Ninh's chao ca stands out with its thick, velvety texture and a flavorful blend of fish and herbs. The meticulous preparation results in a dish that captivates the senses, offering a harmonious interplay of tastes and textures.
- Phan Thiet: In Phan Thiet, chao ca showcases the perfect harmony of sticky rice, green beans, and fish. The dish's true artistry lies in the meticulous cooking of fish, retaining its natural sweetness. Additionally, banana flowers are finely prepared and added, enhancing the overall texture and flavor.
- Ca Mau: Ca Mau's chao ca combines the sweetness of fresh fish, the earthy bitterness of local vegetables, and the aroma of rice, creating a unique dish that captures the essence of the region's culinary heritage.
4.4. Vietnamese fish hot pot (Lau ca)
- Lau ca thac lac (Hau Giang): This Vietnamese hot pot not only features the exquisite “thac lac” fish but also incorporates the refreshing taste of bitter melon and the delightful sweetness of broth. Familiar to locals, this dish remains an exotic delight for many travelers.
- Lau ca keo la giang (the Mekong Delta): The star of this hot pot is the fresh “keo” fish, known for its tender meat. When combined with the tangy flavor of “giang” leaves and a sweet-and-sour broth, it creates an irresistible harmony of flavors. This hot pot comes with a variety of accompanying vegetables such as water spinach, morning glory, bitter melon, corn, and banana flowers.
- Lau ca hoi (Sapa): Salmon hot pot features thinly sliced salmon served with a delectable broth and local vegetables like pumpkin leaves and water spinach. The key to this dish lies in the broth, which must be perfectly balanced - clear, sweet, sour, and fragrant with the essence of pineapple and various spices.
- Lau ca bop (Phan Thiet): Any trip to Phan Thiet would be incomplete without indulging in lau ca bop nau chua, a renowned dish featuring the delicious “bop” fish from the local sea. The thinly sliced fish enhances the broth with its natural sweetness. The hot pot brings a medley of flavors, incorporating the tanginess of tamarind, the zest of lime, the spicy kick of chili, the aromatic blend of lemongrass and garlic, and the vibrant red hue of tomatoes.
- Lau ca duoi (Vung Tau): The art of preparing lau ca duoi lies in the meticulous cleaning process, which ensures that the eel is free from impurities and cooked to perfection. This dish is complemented by fresh bamboo shoots, corn, and green beans, creating a mildly sweet and sour broth unique to the region.
4.5. Vietnamese sticky rice with fish (Xoi ca)
Vietnamese sticky rice with fish is a local delight in Nha Trang. This variation of Vietnamese sticky rice might not be easily found on bustling streets, instead, it is a hidden gem waiting to be discovered in the city's narrow alleys. The magic lies in the meticulously prepared dried fish, which is cooked in a flavorful blend of garlic, chili, fish sauce, sugar, and water. The sticky rice is steamed to perfection, creating a soft and slightly chewy texture that complements the savory fish.
4.6. Vietnamese raw fish salad (Goi ca)
- Goi ca trich (Phu Quoc): Phu Quoc's fresh catch is meticulously cleaned and mixed with onions, carrots, coconut, and fried garlic. Wrapped in rice paper with basil, mint, and lettuce, it is dressed in a tangy vinegar sauce, offering a burst of flavors.
- Goi ca duc (Ha Tinh): To make this dish, the fish is marinated in lime juice, mixed with cilantro, basil, and lettuce, then wrapped in rice paper. It is often served with vinegar, garlic, chili, and a dipping sauce.
- Goi ca mai (Nha Trang): This dish is made from white sardine deboned and marinated in lime juice, salt, and chili. It is mixed with basil, cilantro, and green mango, then served with rice paper and tangy fish sauce, offering a refreshing taste reminiscent of the sea.
- Goi ca me (Bac Giang): The fish is cleaned, deboned, finely sliced, marinated with lime juice, then mixed with herbs, coconut, and peanuts. Dressed in tamarind, fish sauce, sugar, and chili sauce, it balances sweet, sour, salty, and spicy flavors, capturing the essence of coastal cuisine.
To savor these delectable Vietnamese fish dishes, don't miss the chance to explore the vibrant culinary scene of Vietnam's major cities. Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Phu Quoc, Nha Trang, Hoi An, Da Nang, and Ha Long are all culinary havens, where you can indulge in a diverse array of local delicacies, be it street food or fine dining.
To enhance your stay, consider booking a room at one of Vinpearl's exquisite resorts and hotels. Vinpearl offers luxurious accommodations, world-class amenities, and impeccable service. Additionally, don't miss the chance to explore VinWonders, a system of entertainment complexes where you can immerse yourself in thrilling rides, captivating shows, and unforgettable experiences.
Vietnam's culinary landscape is a testament to its rich cultural heritage and the creativity of its people. From the hearty dishes of the north to the coastal delights of the central region and the exotic flavors of the south, Vietnamese fish dishes offer a tantalizing experience for food enthusiasts. As you embark on your culinary adventure through Vietnam, don't miss the opportunity to savor these delightful fish dishes. Each bite invites you to explore the nuances of Vietnamese cuisine and indulge in the authentic flavors that have captivated the hearts of food lovers around the world.