Siamese mud carp (or “Cá linh”) is known as “the gift from the flood” in Mekong Delta – a peaceful, beautiful, rich in culture and specialties region in South Vietnam. It has become one of Mekong Delta’s most famous and unique specialty foods. In Vietnamese, we call Siamese mud carp “Cá linh” which literally means holly fish (“Cá” means fish, “linh” means holly). It has been said that one of the Vietnamese Kings (or Lords) name Siamese mud carp “Cá linh” to express the thanks to the fish that informs the people of the flood.
The flooding season in Mekong Delta is from the middle of July in the lunar calendar of the year. During this season, the Mekong River – one of the world’s great waterways flow upstream and some parts of the Mekong Delta region is flooded. That is the reason why Mekong Delta people “In July water jumps out of river banks”. Locals call the water in May (of the lunar calendar) “rotating water”. They call the water in June (of the lunar calendar) “lipstick water” because the water is as red as the lips of a lipsticked girl. When July comes, the abundance of water irrigates fields, rice paddies, garden, and enriches them with precious silt, enabling farmers to grow three crops of rice annually. The water also brings a wide range of specialties including shrimps, fishes including the unique Siamese mud carp.
In this season, many families in the region make money from fishing Siamese mud carp. Hundreds of kilograms of Siamese mud carps can be caught. Amongst the immense flooding water, the scene of many small boats that are docked near temporary stilt houses and fishermen who go fishing by nets, rods, “đó”, “đáy” has become one of the most beautiful images in Mekong Delta and inspirations of many poetics and artists. The simple but beautiful Mekong Delta in flooding season can touch the hearts of most visitors and leaves unforgettable memories in the lifetime.
Not only the great countryside scene but also the great taste of Siamese mud carp impress visitors. The Siamese mud carp dishes contain the color, taste, fragrance, love, and soul of Mekong Delta. It would be a very big miss if you do not try Siamese mud carp on your trip to the region in the flood season. Covered with twinkle silver scales, this small carp has lots of bones but its tender flesh and greasy organs taste amazing. Siamese mud carps have been born and fed by themselves in the water. Caught at the beginning of the flooding season, Young Siamese mud carp (or Milk Siamese mud carps) which is as big as the top of a chopstick have tender bones and meat are considered the most delicious. Young Siamese mud carps are usually braised with coconut water. The perfect mix of the greasy organs and sweet-tasty flesh of the fish and the greasy, tender but sticky has made this dish spectacular and unforgettable. In the middle of the season, the carp is twice bigger than the fish caught at the beginning of the season, the carp is as big as a finger. These carps are the best ingredients to cook a tasty Sweet and sour soup. Besides the fish, this soup also consists of many fresh vegetables including water lily stems, hummingbird flowers, Sesbania sesban flowers, yellow velvetleaves. They also deep-fry the fishes until crispy and smelling, then eat with tamarind fish sauce. Mekong Delta have been telling me that what is better than drinking rice wine with crispy Siamese mud carps. At the end of the season, the carp is as big as a toe, it has more bones and scales which become harder. The carps at this time are also used to make the outstandingly yummy deep-fried Siamese mud carps. Especially, they are the ingredients to make Fermented Siamese mud carp or “Mắm cá linh” – a very special traditional food of locals. In the past, Vietnamese in people in many regions ferment fishes, shrimps in order to save them for a long time, a few months, even a few years. Mekong Delta cooks usually make Fermented Siamese mud carp at the end of the flooding season from big carps. “Mắm cá linh” is said to be more smelling and tasty than other kinds of Vietnamese fermented foods. It can be eaten with steamed rice, boiled or fresh vegetables, and/or herbs. Or it can be used to cook the famous Braised pork with Fermented Siamese mud carp which is eaten with water lily stems and steamed rice or rice noodles. Locals have created a lot of delicious dishes from this kind of fish.
The flooding season or the Siamese mud carp season comes every year has been the character of the Mekong Delta region. It is not only a part of the year but the soul of the entire region, the miss and the memories of the people who have been born in this land and visited it. It is also the passion, the waiting, the inspiration of poetics and artists.