Salt, sweat and scales: the village that boils fish

By Hai Dang   July 6, 2016 | 09:00 am GMT+7

With a 3,000 km coastline, Vietnam has fish to burn. But one village chose to boil them.

So how do you sell more fish when you're already swimming in them? One village has come up with the most basic way of preparing food.

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Fish brought ashore wait to be collected by boiling “maisons”. Boiling fish became a profession half a century ago at the fish markets along Ham Tu Dock in the south central city of Quy Nhon.

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The fish are gutted and scaled before they head for the pot. 

Once the fish are prepped they are boiled batch by batch.

Once the fish are prepped they are boiled batch by batch.

The mixture is whipped into a special recipe to maintain the savory flavor inherent in seafood. The cooking time for each type of fish differs to keep the desired chewiness.

The mixture is whipped into a special recipe to maintain the savory flavor inherent in seafood. The cooking time for each type of fish differs to keep the desired chewiness.

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Women rarely take the main role in these houses as the workload here is not one designed for women.

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A worker raises a 10 kilogram basket of fish higher above his waist into the boiling mixture and shakes it until all the fish are safe and sound in the pot.

Làng nghề hấp cá ở Quy Nhơn

The fire is set at 5 a.m. On the hottest days of this no-winter coastal region, the temperature may reach as high as 60 degrees Celsius, a threshold that puts off any wannabe newbies.

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The job pays $5 to $10 per day, just enough to make ends meet, and one of things that helps them through the heat that soaks them in sweat every day.

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Sang, 59 years old, is a veteran fish boiler. “Giving it up would be sad,” he said.

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Cleaning up is the inevitable task at the end of every day. The smell from the houses clings to the body, but there is no choice but to live with it. It takes time for any novice to get used to the smell and space. In the past, each house could boil up to 200 kilograms of fish in a single day. Now, a day’s work is down to half the previous load.

Photos by VnExpress/Nghiem Phu Lam

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