As one of their favorite specialties, sour fish is served for everyday meals and important family events of the Thai people. The Thai people reside in mountainous areas with rivers running through for wet rice cultivation, which is a favorable natural condition for farming and fishing. Fish dishes are prepared in various ways with distinctive tastes.

In Chieng Hac commune, Yen Chau district, Son La province, residents use Nam Sap stream for fishing and irrigation. The most convenient time for fishing is the dry season when loads of fish are harvested and processed for later use.

Sour fish of Thai people in Son La province

Lo Thi Phuong from Vang Lung village often makes sour fish for her family meals and present to her relatives. The main ingredients of this dish include milkfish, red-eyed carp and predatory carp caught in the stream. After the internal organs and the black membrane in the belly are removed, the fish is washed with alcohol, drained and sliced into small pieces. Afterwards, rice is roasted until it turns golden, and then it is pounded finely to produce a special kind of rice powder. The fish is mixed with rice powder, ground galangal root and lemongrass as well as other local spices. When the fish is fully marinated with ingredients, it is put into a bamboo tube, sealed and stored in the kitchen. The fish ferment naturally in roughly 10 days until it becomes edible.

The process must be extremely meticulous to ensure the sour fish quality. When the fish gets sour, it turns into a natural pinkish white color and has a scrumptious scent. Sour fish is served with numerous kinds of leaves such as fig leaves, cloves and wild vegetables to create its distinct flavor. The fish flesh becomes firm with a buttery fragrance derived from toasted-rice powder. Sour fish can be used to make soup or grilled on charcoal. With careful preservation, the fish will not spoil and still retain its natural flavor.

Sour fish is offered to ancestors on weddings, holidays, or house-warming parties of the Thai people who believe that fish is associated with the aquatic environment, the source of life for all living creatures. Therefore, offering sour fish is a way to make a wish for favorable weather conditions and sufficient water for things to flourish. In the wedding ceremony, the tray of offerings by the groom’s family to the bride’s ancestors includes two sour fish tubes with the hope for the couple to stay happy ever after. The sour fish dish with unique taste not only is a simple and rustic food but also contains many deep meanings, contributing to the enrichment of the Thai culinary culture in the Northwestern region of Vietnam.

Translated by Minh Hieu - Kim Ngan - Thuy Trang - Thu Trang