In Saigon, fish stalls pull an all-nighter for God of Wealth Day

By Quynh Tran   February 25, 2018 | 03:20 pm GMT+7

Grilled blotched snakehead are a must if you're fishing for a prosperous new year.

In the early hours of God of Wealth Day, which falls on the 10th day of the first lunar month (February 25 this year), many families on Tan Ky Tan Quy Street (Tan Phu District, HCMC) are busy grilling blotched snakehead fish. For years this street has been known as Saigons grilled fish market.   This is the busiest time of the year on this street as Saigon residents rush to prepare offerings for the God of Wealth, which include votive paper, fruits, roast pork and of course grilled fish.

In the early hours of God of Wealth Day, which falls on the 10th day of the first lunar month (February 25 this year), many families on Tan Ky Tan Quy Street (Tan Phu District, HCMC) are busy grilling blotched snakehead fish. For years this street has been known as Saigon’s grilled fish market. This is the busiest time of the year here as Saigon residents rush to prepare offerings for the God of Wealth, which include votive paper, fruit, roast pork and grilled fish.

Dozens of grilled fish stalls have hired extra help with lighting charcoal, grilling the fish and preparing vegetable side dishes.

Dozens of fish stalls have hired extra helpers to tend to the fires, grill the fish and prepare vegetable side dishes.

Grilled blotched snakehead fish has been sold here for over a decade. Its sold here every day but the busiest time is on God of Wealth Day. From 1 in the morning, the staff are already busy setting up the fire, preparing the fish, grilling& in time to sell in the morning, Thi, a stall owner said.

“Grilled blotched snakehead fish have been sold here for over a decade. They're on sale here every day, but the busiest time is on God of Wealth Day. From 1 a.m., the staff have been lighting the fires, preparing the fish, grilling… in time to sell them in the morning,” said Thi, a stall owner.

The fish is sourced from Binh Dien wholesale market. A day before the God of Wealth Day, dozens of fish boxes are being delivered to the stall for staff to organize them according to size.

The fish are sourced from Binh Dien Market. A day before God of Wealth Day, dozens of boxes of fish are delivered to the stall for staff to prepare them by size.

Sugar cane used as a skew is sourced from Tay Ninh, a city two hours drive from Saigon.

Sugar cane used as a skewers is sourced from Tay Ninh, a city two hours drive from Saigon.

The fish is grilled in its entirety, no scales, intestines or fins are removed. On an ordinary day, well remove fish bile so its not bitter. But on the God of Wealth Day, we need to keep the bile intact for offering, Trung, from a fish stall said.

The fish are grilled whole, complete with scales, intestines and fins. “On an ordinary day, we’ll remove the bile so they're not bitter. But on God of Wealth Day, we need to keep the bile intact for the offerings,” said Trung from one fish stall.

The fish is not just being grilled on the sidewalk of Tan Ky Tan Quy Street but also right in the courtyard of houses.   Usually I sell just about 100 fish a day but today I had to buy 800 to sell enough grilled fish. Today is the only day during the year the grilled fish sells like hot cakes so the entire family has to work overnight, Tuyet Phuong said.

Fish can also be found grilling in many families' courtyards. “I usually sell about 100 fish a day, but today I have 800 for sale. Today is the only day of the year that grilled fish sell so fast, so the entire family has to work overnight,” local resident Tuyet Phuong said.

This year, we estimate our stall will sell 4,000 grilled snakehead fish. Normally, we employ just five people but today we need more than 20. Dozens of grills are busy from midnight to the following evening, Quang Dung, a stall owner, said.

“This year, we estimate our stall will sell 4,000 grilled snakehead fish. Normally, we employ just five people, but today we have more than 20 workers. Dozens of grills are burning from midnight to the following evening,” Quang Dung, a stall owner, said.

On average, it takes 30 minutes to grill a fish. According to the seller, its important for the grills to maintain a stable temperature. If its not hot enough, the fish will be undercooked. If its too hot, it will burn.   In addition, the cook has to pay attention for the fish not to get too burnt, otherwise the fins will fall off. On an ordinary day, that wouldnt be a problem but not on God of Wealth Day, when the fins of snakehead fish have to be intact if we want customers to buy them, said Dung.

On average, it takes 30 minutes to grill a fish. According to the sellers, it’s important to maintain a stable temperature. If it’s not hot enough, the fish will be undercooked. If it’s too hot, they will burn. “The cooks also have to make sure the fish do not get too burnt, otherwise the fins will fall off. On an ordinary day, that wouldn’t be a problem, but on God of Wealth Day, the fins of snakehead fish have to be intact if we want customers to buy them,” said Dung.

As the fish are being grilled, herbs are being prepared as side dishes.

As the fish are being grilled, herbs are prepared for side dishes.

Many people ventured to buy the fish in the early hours. One grilled snakehead fish with a side of herbs, and fried shallots.

Many people ventured out to buy fish in the early hours. One grilled snakehead fish with a side of herbs and fried shallots sells from VND130,000-170,000 ($5.7-7.5).

 
 
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