Lau Ca Linh Bong Dien Dien – Freshwater Fish with River Hemp Flower Hot Pot
Foods that always appear on the dining table (or straw mat) every evening are spicy fish or meat stew, crunchy fried fish, and a steaming hot pot with a lot of greens. Ca linh – a type of local freshwater fish, and bong dien dien – river hemp flower, are hearty gifts from mother nature to encourage Dong Thap people to live through the floods.
Ca Linh is best harvested in the flood season every year, from September to November. At this time, the fish are delicious: young and growing. Its bones are still soft and there is lots of fat under the belly, making it the most nutritious treat of the year. The female fish usually comes with a roe pouch, which is delicious when deep fried. The male fish is simmered in the pot.
This fish’s best companion in the steaming broth is bong dien dien, a radiant yellow flower that grows wild on the river banks, swamps, and rice fields. When blanched, it has a very special flavor, nutty and buttery, crunchy in texture, and full of aroma. Bong Dien Dien has become a beloved specialty from the Mekong Delta and makes its way to almost every Vietnamese home-cooked style restaurant around the country.
To make the lau ca linh bong dien dien dish, the most time-consuming cooking process is to deal with the Ca Linh fish. You have to take out all the intestines, the bitter part, and get rid of the pointy tail. Ca Linh can be eaten whole, and the younger they are, the more savory and sweet. These fish are really tender and easy to cook once you remove the unsavory parts.
The broth, on the other hand, is easy to make: start with a pot full of coconut water and pork or chicken stock, put in a few young tamarinds for a sharper taste, add some seasoning and there you go. Let it boil, add in some keo neo – yellow velvet-leaf and bong sung – water lily for extra sweetness. These are local common vegetables and they taste really good also.
Ca linh is added last before eating. Blanch bong dien dien in the hot pot – dip the flower into the boiling broth for just a second, then take it out. Follow these procedures, and you will have the most unique and most delicious hot pot. Remember to turn down the heat when you take a break. And not to mention, it is best enjoyed with a good fish sauce and chilies.
You can have lau ca linh bong dien dien in the biggest city of Dong Thap – Cao Lanh city. It is even better if you manage to get acquainted with a local family and enjoy this meal with them.
Ba Tam – Cheap local eatery, Cao Lanh city
Location: 53 Pham Huu Lau St., Ward 4, Cao Lanh city, Dong Thap province.
Opening Hours: 10:00 AM – 10:00 PM
Price Range: 20.000 VND – 100.000 VND
This is a very cheap and super good local place. It costs only around 60.000 VND for a hot pot. You may struggle a bit with the language barrier, but it will pay off greatly.
Xeo Quit Restaurant, Cao Lanh City
Location: Xeo Quit Eco-tourism park, My Hiep Commune, Cao Lanh city, Dong Thap province.
Opening Hours: 10:00 AM – 10:00 PM
Price Range: 50.000 VND – 220.000 VND
Dong Thap Province – Endless Rice Fields and Lotus Swamps
Dong Thap province is a wetland located 150 kilometers away from Saigon, famously known for its vast green scenery. Flocks of birds fly over the endless rice fields, lotus swamps, and through Indigo forests. It’s a daydream for those of you who are bored with the concrete jungle and vehicle horns. Friendly people, beautiful natural sights, and three other valuable spotlights are mentioned herein Sal’s article about Dong Thap. Check it out to learn more about this charming region, but for now, we will explore the food.
Dong Thap cuisine also makes use of its surrounding fauna and flora. Anything that moves, swims or just stands still is susceptible to the cooking pot. But, the cooks of this region know how to combine and create rustic dishes of unusual excellence.
Here we have grilled snakehead fish wrapped in lotus leaf, smoked living snails (yes, they live and get fatter just by eating smoke), and Hu Tieu Sa Dec. But there are two particular dishes that sit on the top, and have become the symbol of Dong Thap cuisine: lau ca linh bong dien dien and chuot dong quay lu.