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Exploring Phu Tho’s lăng fish specialty

Update: May, 28/2017 - 09:00
Freshly caught: Grilled fish served with vermicelli and herbs. Texturally, it was just right – dark yellow skin of the fish with some roasted peanuts and a number of herbs – lettuce, coriander, perilla and mint.
Viet Nam News

The province of Phu Tho is known for lăng fish, which is a type of catfish caught in the rivers that flow through the area. There are many ways to cook the fish, some of which I tried on a recent trip out of Ha Noi.

By Hồng Vân

I have heard that lăng fish (hemibagrus, a type of catfish) is a specialty in Phú Thọ and I was curious about how it was different from those served in Hà Nội; therefore, finding a good lăng fish restaurant was at the top of the to-do list during my recent trip to the northern province.

I had a local friend who knew his hometown very well, so finding a restaurant that offers this particular specialty was not hard. He recommended two of his favourite restaurants that served the speciality fish. We plumped for the less touristy one, which was hidden among an array of beer shops, cafés and small eateries. The restaurant, named Cá Lăng Sông Đà (Đà River Lăng Fish), offers solely lăng dishes. Perfect!

We were warmly welcomed by the owner and staff. Knowing that I was not a local, the owner spoke enthusiastically about his pride for the fish.

Three rivers pass through Phú Thọ Province – the Đà River, the Lô River and the Thao River. Among them, the Đà is known for its clean water, an ideal habitat for fishes. The other key to the quality of the fish here, according to my friend, was the strong current, making for strong fish that get a lot of daily physical ‘exercise’. This means the flesh is tender.  

The restaurant was clean and spacious with a small aquarium of lăng fish in the corner. Customers can choose the fish for their meal, and decide how they want them cooked. The restaurant will do the rest – whipping up delicious dishes to order.

A number of options are available, including stir-frying, steaming, grilling, or even a hotpot.

We were a group of eight, choosing a three-kilogram fish and settling on three dishes – stir-fried, grilled and a hotpot.

Some fish fillets stir-fried with pineapple came first, just fifteen minutes after we ordered. A full plate of white flesh, dotted with some thinly sliced pineapple, carrot, spring onions, dill and chili was well presented. The meat was perfectly seasoned and cooked, and the flesh was firmer than the fish I had tried in some of Hà Nội’s restaurants.

Stir-frying fish with pineapple is a wise combination, as it enhances the sweetness of the fish and reduces the fishy smell.

Boiling broth: The final serving was pretty impressive, with a heavy plate of raw fish slices, vegetables (glory morning, cabbage and canola), a boiling pot of broth with some slices of sweetcorn, fresh mushrooms and soya sauce.

One of my local friends said that the lăng fish in the restaurant was caught from the Đà River. One of the characteristics of this lăng fish, he said, is its dark skin. He also explained to us the reasons for the freshness and tough texture of the fish. He recommended that we visit some households near the Trung Hà bridge which crosses the Đà, and bringing some fish back to Hà Nội as gifts.

Next we had the grilled fish. It looked perfectly cooked – dark yellow skin of the fish with some roasted peanuts and fresh herbs – lettuce, coriander, perilla and mint. However, when I bit into it, the meat was a little dry. The cook may have overcooked it slightly.

Unlike chả cá Lã Vọng, a signature dish in Hà Nội (grilled lăng fish slowly fried in oil and dill, served with fresh rice vermicelli, aromatic herbs, roasted peanut and shrimp paste), grilled fish here is wrapped in rice paper and seaweed with herbs and served with soya sauce). To me, soya sauce may not have been the best choice for fish as it is a bit salty.

For this dish, the fish flesh alone might have been underwhelming, yet the mix of fish with herbs dipped in soya sauce was a satisfying treat.

The final serving was pretty impressive, with a heavy plate of raw fish slices, vegetables (glory morning, cabbage and canola), a pot of boiling broth with some sweetcorn and fresh mushrooms.

We all agreed that the hotpot had the right amount of sweetness. The fish was tender and juicy, and the vegetables were appreciated after the two servings of meat. 

We finished our meal with green tea and grapefruit and watermelon, but not sweet European cakes or coffee like some restaurants offer. This really made me feel like it was a homely meal.

The total bill for our meal came to VNĐ1.2 million (US$53), of which the fish alone cost VNĐ300,000 ($13) per kilogram, and the rest for drinks and desserts. VNS 

Cá Lăng Sông Đà (Đà River Lăng Fish) Restaurant

Address: Kiosk 124-15, Happy Land Zone, Gia Cẩm, Việt Trì City, Phú Thọ Province.

Phone: 02103595 666

Comment: good food at a reasonable price and pleasant atmosphere

 

 

Clean and tidy: The restaurant offers only fish dishes, and has a cosy ambiance. —VNS Photos Đoàn Tùng
Mix of flavours: Stir fried lăng fish. The dish was perfectly seasoned and cooked, with the flesh firmer than the fish I had tried at some Hà Nội eateries.

 

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