The Mekong Delta is home to a particular variety of anchovy fish, which is as small as the tip of a chopstick with milky white body.
Dried anchovy mixed with powdered grilled rice
The fish lives mainly in large rivers. As the fish is too small, people have to maintain thinner fishing nets to catch the fish. The anchovy season begins in lunar March and the local people cast their nests and are able to net the fish in abundance for their daily use.
Besides preparing anchovy in the usual way by braising or cooking into a sour soup, the fish is also batter fried. Fried anchovy is delicious when served with cucumber, raw vegetables, unripe banana and star fruit.
Sometimes local people dry the fish in the sun to preserve or eat later with rice porridge.
Women in the delta region prepare an exotic dish called ‘nem’. The anchovy nem dish is painstakingly prepared and hence not commonly available.
To make nem, the fish is first cleaned thoroughly, which takes a lot of time as it has to be cut with very small scissors to eliminate tiny bones from the fish womb and then rubbed to remove the scales.
The fish is then soaked in salt water until its body separates into two parts. It is strained, the main bone along its body removed and the fish marinated in fresh coconut water for 30 minutes before being taken out in a basket to drain.
The anchovy is mixed with sugar, pepper, lime, grilled garlic, coarse salt and powdered grilled rice.
Finally, the fish is wrapped in young coral tree leaves and banana leaves. To speed the fermenting process, the nem is hung above a wood fire.
Four days later the nem is ready and stays well preserved for up to ten days.
People in the Mekong Delta only make nem when laying a feast for honored guests.