Braised fermented fish and water lily stem (Bong sung mam kho) is a specialty food of Mekong Delta region of Vietnam. The dish is considered as a great gift from the Earth. It reflects the characteristics of the beautiful, peaceful Mekong Delta land which is rich in products, cuisine and culture. A Vietnamese folk song says:
“Muốn ăn bông súng mắm kho/ Thì vô Đồng Tháp ăn cho đã thèm”
(“If you would like to eat Braised fermented fish and water lily stem/Let come to Dong Thap and eat until you get bored of it”)
Although the dish is made from familiar and simple ingredients (fermented fish, vegetables including water lily stem), the dish is an essence of the rural Mekong Delta which attracts people to come to this region.
Dong Thap province in Mekong Delta is full of lotus fields and water lily ponds. It has been said that water lilies are everywhere in the province. Especially, in the flood season, water lilies grow fast. Thousands of blooming water lily flowers in flood season are one of the most beautiful sights in Mekong Delta. The image of local people harvesting long edible water lily stems is familiar in Dong Thap. Water lily stem is eaten as a kind of vegetables. They use it to cook Sweet and sour soup, Hot pot, or to serve with Rice noodle soup with fermented fish, Braised fermented fish. Water lily stem is washed, peeled, cut into chunks, drained off.
A local is harvesting water lily stems.
There are many kinds of fermented fishes (Mam). However, the best ingredient for this dish is fermented fish made from Snakeskin gourami which is stored in a terracotta jar. It is better to put a pressure on the fermented snakeskin gourami with guava branches. A good Fermented Snakeskin gourami is dark red and smelling. Cook the Mam with water (or coconut water) until tender, use a filter to retain the first extract from Mam. Coconut water adds a light sweetness to the extract. Continue cooking the remaining after filtering with water (or coconut water) to have the second extract from Mam. Add chili pepper, lemongrass, salt, sugar to the second extract. Pork belly, Anabas testudineus, snakehead, shrimp are added into the pot of Braised fermented fish. When all of the meat, fishes, and shrimps are well-done, add the first extract. Tomato is an optional ingredient, it adds sourness to the dish and makes it easier to eat.
Fermented Snakeskin gourami is the best ingredient to cook Braised fermented fish
It is better to enjoy Bong sung mam kho right after cooking. The typical smell spreads in the air and makes diners mouth-watering. Dip juicy, airy, crunchy water lily stem chunks in the broth of the Braised fermented fish and tuck in. How great it is! In reality, local people eat Braised fermented fish with various vegetables. However, water lily stem pairs the best with the Braised fermented fish. In addition, the flavorful broth plays off greasy and fatty pork belly, firm flesh of fishes and shrimps. Eating steamed rice with Braised fermented fish and water lily stem is one of the most beautiful memories in the life of any Mekong Delta person. If you have a chance to visit this wonderful region, do not miss this amazing dish.
Braised fermented fish with freshwater fish, shrimp, pork belly, eggplant, etc. The broth is brown, flavorful and smelling.
To eat, dip water lily stem and other vegetables in the Braised fermented fish.
From a dish in the countryside of Mekong Delta, Braised fermented fish and water lily stem has become a brilliant gem in Vietnamese cuisine. It has been on the menu of many luxury restaurants.