Published: 05/25/2012 by Pat
While rice is the staple food for Vietnam, something else can be harvested in their rice fields. But it’s not a plant or something you may expect. Growing just as well as rice and can be harvested after the rainy season is the field anabas – a kind of fish.
Also known as “climbing perch” and considered a “gift of the overflowing rivers, streams and canals,” the field anabas has been a part of the traditional Vietnamese menu for a long time. Though it is a fairly common fish since it can be found in the abundant rice fields in the country, the field anabas has a distinctive taste, fragrant smell and firm flesh that makes it special in Vietnamese dishes.
Some say that it is the soil in rice fields that make it suitable for the fish to thrive in that kind of environment. In particular, it is said that the field anabas found in the northern province of Hai Duong taste the best. As such, the fish is specifically identified with the place. The signature dish for field anabas in the province is the rice vermicelli and anabas soup, a sumptuous and surprisingly easy meal to prepare.
To cook the traditional noodle soup, the fish is cleaned by scaling and gutting it. It is then cut into two parts, one part to be used in the broth, the other to be used when the dish is almost ready. The first part is boiled until the flesh of the fish separates. Remove the bones. You’ll know when the broth is cooked and perfect when it has become transparent and has a sweet taste. To make the dish even more delectable, crushed fresh vinegar can be added.
The other part of the fish is also boiled, but for a shorter time than the first. Once the meat is cooked, remove the bones and stir fry it with just a small amount of oil or fats. Shallots can be added for more flavor. When both parts of the fish are cooked, place the cooked rice vermicelli in a big bowl, add the stir-fried fish, top it with sliced spring onions and pepper, and pour the hot broth over it. A side dish of bean sprouts, shredded banana, split water spinach, basil, lettuce, and fish sauce mixed with chili completes the delectable meal.
The field anabas dish has become so well-known that it has reached places even outside Hai Duong Province, even as far as Ho Chi Minh City. Many restaurants in the city have already specialized in the dish. It is even more perfect in the cold season when the fish soup, topped with fresh herbs, pungent and spicy chili powder, adds a welcome warmth against the chilly weather.
The field anabas fish is best bought during the fourth month of the Lunar calendar, just after the rainy season, when the fish are well fed and at their best conditions.