In South Vietnam, especially Mekong Delta which is known as the bowl of rice, Rice porridge (Chao) is a favorite of most families for low price, easy and quick recipe, great taste, fulfillment, rich nutrition, and healthiness. Plain rice porridge is often eaten with braised fish. They also cook Rice porridges with pork, chicken, fish, eel, etc. Among various porridge recipes, the outstandingly delicious Porridge with snakehead and knotgrass (Chao ca loc rau dang) is a specialty food of Mekong Delta.
Main ingredients of this dish are rice, snakehead, knotgrass, Fermented soybeans, green onion, and herbs. The ingredients must be chosen carefully to make sure the dish is flavorful. The rice should be sweet, a little sticky and fragrant. The rice is toasted until opaque white, a little burnt and yellow, very pleasant. Big snakehead which has less bone is better. Both cook and dinner prefer snakehead caught in the wild because its flesh is firm and sweet. According to Mekong Delta people, the guts are considered as the most delicious, the fish guts are kept. To remove fishy odor and keep the taste of the fish flesh, some cooks poach the fish in boiling water with some ginger and salt.
Toasted rice is added to boiling water and cooked until broken and desired consistency is achieved. After seasoning the porridge with salt, the snakehead is added. The snakehead must be well-done and not too tender. There are two ways to serve this dish. Some people prefer to serve porridge and fish separately, the porridge is ladled into a soup bowl, the whole fish is put on a plate with poached green onions, and herbs. Others prefer to serve the porridge and the fish flesh in a bowl, they remove all of the bone of the cooked snakehead before serving with the porridge, then top chopped green onions, and minced herbs. Local people like to add some Fermented soybeans to the bowl of porridge to enhance its flavor. The last thing to be served and eaten with this kind of Chao is knotgrass. Being bitter and fresh, knotgrass fit perfectly the warm tender porridge and rich, firm, sweet-tasting fish flesh and the distinctive Fermented soybeans.
Porridge with snakehead and knotgrass is a wonderful dish on not only cold but hot days because it is good for stomach, flavorful, and rich-nutrient. The perfect mix of the wild snakehead and bitter knotgrass has made the dish beloved by most Mekong Delta people as well as visitors from other regions of Vietnam and other countries. Along the Highway Number 1 through Tien Giang provinces, there are a lot of Chao ca loc restaurants run by local people. There is no better than enjoy a warm bowl of Porridge with snakehead and knotgrass to feel your stomach and refresh your mind on your trip through Mekong Delta.