Northern village braises fish in clay pots for Tet treat

By Ngoc Thanh   January 28, 2021 | 06:30 pm GMT+7
Vu Dai villagers take great pains to make braised fish in clay pots, a special Tet treat that delights gourmets nationwide.
Northern village braises fish in clay pots for Tet treat

With two weeks to go before Tet (Lunar New Year), residents of Vu Dai Village in Ha Nam Province’s Ly Nhan District are making their traditional braised fish.

The village has built itself a reputation for this special dish. More than 50 households make it, but only 10 do so on a large scale. Each household sells 1,000-2,000 pots of fish per year.

In the picture above, Tran Duc Phong smiles as he shows off one of his biggest black carps, weighing more than 3 kilograms, before cooking it on the morning of January 27, 2021.

Northern village braises fish in clay pots for Tet treat

Phong and his wife remove the scales and internal organs before cutting the fish into small pieces and cleaning them.

"During the rest of the year, weaving is our livelihood. But when Tet comes, we focus on making braised fish," Phong’s wife said, adding they will make 1,500 pots this year.

Their earnings from these busy days are much higher than those on normal days, but "we are always tired and don’t get enough sleep."

Northern village braises fish in clay pots for Tet treat

Before cooking, Phong’s family prepares 16 different spices to marinate the fish. A layer of minced galangal is placed at the bottom of the pot to prevent the fish from getting burned and to create distinctive flavors.

Northern village braises fish in clay pots for Tet treat

"Our braised fish have a salty and sour flavor, which makes them different from braised fish in other regions," said Nguyen Ba Toan (L), owner of the "Ca Kho Ba Kien" (Ba Kien Braised Fish) brand. Toan explained that the salty flavor comes from fish sauce and the sour one from lime juice.

Northern village braises fish in clay pots for Tet treat

The fish pieces are placed in individual clay pots with pork belly and spices.

Northern village braises fish in clay pots for Tet treat

The villagers use only longan firewood because it imparts a fragrance and maintains the fire for the long hours (15-16 hours) it takes to cook this dish. Villagers procure the firewood around six months before the Lunar New Year. The pots, made in central Nghe An Province, are initially used to boil rice water to strengthen their heat endurance.

This year, Phong’s family is using a more expensive kind of pot for patrons who want to buy the braised fish as a gift.

Northern village braises fish in clay pots for Tet treat

The pots are placed in two rows on an elongated stove arrangement to allow several people to do the cooking at the same time.

When Tet is close, Phong hires around ten people to watch the fire and pots to ensure the braised fish is perfectly cooked.

Northern village braises fish in clay pots for Tet treat

"Small fires make a lot of smoke. For the last two years, we have been using gas masks to protect our eyes and health. But after wearing this for 15 minutes, I have to take it off since it is sealed and makes me feel hot," Phong said.

Northern village braises fish in clay pots for Tet treat

Once the fish is boiled, the cook adds lime juice and a caramelized sauce. The pots are constantly topped with boiled water to keep the fish braising on the fire for up to 16 hours.

Northern village braises fish in clay pots for Tet treat

The fire is stoked frequently to keep the dish cooking for a long time. The pots are not closed as they cook.

Northern village braises fish in clay pots for Tet treat

Hours of braising will makes the fish soft and it takes on a blackish brown hue.

Northern village braises fish in clay pots for Tet treat

After the dish is cooked well and the pots cool down, they are closed with lids and placed in large baskets and sold the same day.

A pot costs VND0.5-1 million ($21.65-43.30), depending on its weight (1.5-4.5 kilogram). A luxury pot placed in a red box costs VND1.5 million.

 
 
go to top