This is an article written about fermented food in Vietnam.
This time we report about Vietnamese Nare-zushi “Mam ca”.
It is Ms.Ann who taught us. Ms.Ann is a local staff member of “B & Company”, a market research company specializing in the Vietnamese market.
Q：What kind of fermented food is “mum car”?
A：Nare-zushi is similar to “Mam ca” in Vietnam.
“Mam ca” is a salty dish made from fish mixed with salt and powdered grilled rice in corked jars for long days of fermentation, sometimes whiskey is used to enhance the aroma and speed up fermentation process.
Fish can be freshwater or saltwater, and most used fishes are anchovy, snakehead fish, the Henicorhynchus (“ca linh”), Trichopodus pectoralis (“ca sac”)…
“Mam ca” is made into 2 stages:
Stage 1: Preliminary treatment
– Wash with water then remove the scales and scoop out the fish’s innards
– Let fish drain out of water then put into jars
– Mix with a suitable amount of salt then cover the jar tightly to avoid insect’s eggs
– Let the fermentation about half a month happen to change fresh fish into “mam”
Stage 2: Finished stage
– Add powdered grilled rice to the jar to create featured smell
– Let the change happen from 2-3 months
This dish is very popular in Vietnam and Southeast Asia. The emergence of “mam” requires at least two conditions: (1) river terrain to ensure surplus in supplying aquaculture species; and (2) hot weather around the year (high temperature) for “mam” to rip and avoid insect invasion. The southern region meet above conditions to the highest extent, therefore this area is known as the capital of “mam”
Q：Please tell me how to eat ‘Mum car’.
A：The most popular way to eat “mam ca” is to serve with other foods without any processing or cooking (also called “mam song”).
This can be eaten with cooked rice, or with raw vegetables and sliced ginger, pepper, or other dishes. Besides “mam” can be served as sauce. Southern people have long assumed that eating a lot of “mam”, fish will help keep body healthy, resistant. The most delicious fish to make this “mam song” are “ca chot”, “ca linh”, “ca ro”, “ca sac”, ‘’ca tre”…
Besides, “mam ca” can be processed by various way of cooking. It can be “man chien” – fry “mam” with cooking oil, garlic, pepper corn. Or “mam chung” – steam “mam” but still keep whole fish or cook crushed fish with minced pork, egg or other seasonings. “mam chung” is often ate with raw vegetable, green banana, cucumber,… Other is “mam kho”- cook with water and other ingredients, which is the most popular in Cuu Long Delta. Especially, in a province named Dong Thap, “mam kho” is used with water lily, citronella, aubergine, snakehead, bacon to serve hot rice or serve as a soup.
Moreover, “mam” is processed into a kind of hot pot called “lau mam”. This is a southern specialty and an amazing marriage of preserved fish and hot-pot as well. Guests are certain to love it at the first sight due to the eye-catching beauty of large dishes of colorful vegetables and the favor of the broth, made from salted fish that is cooked until its meat and bone are separated, greasy and sweet-smelling. The broth is seasoned with sugar, spices; a little of coconut milk added is the secret for a more fatty, scented and viscid hotpot sauce. Red chili and chopped citronella are dispensable parts for a fragrant taste. Fresh fish meat, water crab meat, snails, eel, slices of pork, silver shrimp accompanied with various kinds of vegetables, such as eggplant, bitter melon, water dropwort, “dien dien” flower , bean sprouts, water lily, straw mushroom will be dipped into the boiled sauce until well-done.
Southerners also use “mam” to preserve food, help food can last long. Food kept into “mam” can be long lasting due to the salinity of “mam”. But different from conventional salting fish, the food preserved by this way has another flavor of “mam” so tastier. For example: Pork dipping into “mam”, dua mam, ….
Q：Where is the delicious area of ‘Mam car’?
A：In the southern part of Vietnam, there is a way to make unique “mum” in each region.
In the Southern region of Vietnam, there are various famous local “mam” manufacturing units, each local unit uses different types of ingredients and different processing techniques, creating their own specialties: “mam nuc”, “mam thai”, “mam Chau Doc”, “mam Dong Thap Muoi” (made from fish bowels). Below are top 3 most famous places:
No #1. Chau Doc (An Giang province)
This is the most famous place of “mam” with up to 25 kinds of “mam” and even here there is a huge market named “Chau Doc” that “mam” is on sale display half of the area. “Mam” appeared in Chau Doc from the early time of settling village. At that time, the Mekong Delta area is wide but sparse people. In rainy season, an abundant of fish and shrimp floating resulted in a surplus in food supply, so local people found a way of processing to be able to use in longer time. Normally around July, August, and at peak in October, November are the most abundant fishing season, this is also the time people in Chau Doc making “mam”. “Mam ca” here is sweeter and more delicious than other “mam ca” in other places because in the making process, they have an extra step of mixing with sugar. The fish is taken out from “mam” then dipped with cooked palm sugar (sugar heated to turn into a yellow brown substance) and other seasons.
Chau Doc market
The most famous type of “mam ca” here is “mam thai”. The word “thai” here doesn’t mean “Thailand country”, but slice. “Ca lac” fish fillets are cut into pieces longer than hand span, and papaya is also chopped like a piece of pork skin that is used to cook rice. These two main ingredients are marinated with many other special aromas, of which garlic is essential and cannot be forgotten, then brew the mixture in a certain time. Those who are too busy to cook can eat “mam thai” right away with hot cooked rice. Those who are more sophisticated in eating can eat with boiled pork, shrimp or fish, rolled with girdle-cake. The most popular way to eat is to put beansprout, herbs on girdle-cake, then add on pieces of “mam thai” and boiled meat, boiled fish and boiled shrimp together with small pieces of white noodles (“bun”). Eater will roll all those ingredients and then tap the chili sauce.
Nowadays, “mam ca” in Chau Doc is produced in an industrial way, packaged in a labeled box.
“Mam ca loc” – 90,000 VND/500g
“Mam ca com” – 65,000 VND/500g
No #2 Ca Mau province
Ca Mau, the southernmost land of Vietnam, with U Minh Melaleuca forest in the west – northwest, has the harmonious combination of forest and sea, the interweaving of salt, fresh and brackish ecosystems.
Ca Mau “mam ca” is not as sweet as Chau Doc “mam ca”, therefore suitable for people who do not like to eat sweet. To make “mam ca”, people just mix a small amount of sugar just enough to offset the salty but remain keep the nature sweet from fresh fish and aromatic powdered grilled rice. Ca Mau sauce is not soaked with water but dried.
The most used fish in Ca Mau is “ca son” (scientific name is Apogonidae) which is most abundant from March to August. The fish body is washed and soaked in salt for about a month, then mixed with powdered grilled rice and some other ingredients. After nearly 3 months of fermentation, “mam” can be eatable. People often steam this kind of “mam” with duck egg and pork, a speciality in Ca Mau.
“Mam ca son”- 60,000 VND/kg
No #3 – Dong Thap Muoi, Dong Thap province
Dong Thap is considered a locality with special natural landscapes and charming rivers carrying traits of the wetland of the wild Dong Thap Muoi. In the countryside of Dong Thap, no one does not know about the speciality “bong sung cham mam kho”, (water lily with “mam”) which taste is unforgettable. Every year, when the Tet festival is finished, people begins to catch fish, sell the big ones, keep the small ones to make “mắm”, and eat gradually after rainy season. “Ca linh” (Henicorhynchus) and “ca sac” (Trichopodus pectoralis) are often used to make “mam”. To make “bong sung cham mam kho”, first boil “mam” with coconut juice until the fish is soft, then remove bones and season with chili and lemongrass, pork, … Blending with the spicy taste of chili, the lemongrass, the sweet of the shrimp, the pungent of water lily, this wonderful dish contain all color of countryside.
Q：Is Vietnamese seasoning “Mum” popular among young people?
A：Up to now, “mam” remains very popular even with young people.
In Ho Chi Minh City, there is a street called “Bun Mam Street”, only 200 meters long but there are 20 stores. This is Nguyen Nhu Lam st, Phu Th Hoa ward, Tan Phu district. The brane signs of each restaurant all include both local region such as Bac Lieu noodles, Soc Trang noodle soups, Can Tho noodles,…
“Bun mam” origins from Cambodia, with “mam bu hoc” as main material. But in Vietnam, “bun mam” is usually cooked with “ca linh”, “ca sac”, which are popular fish in provinces of Tra Vinh and Soc Trang. Previously, “bun mam” was a simple dish, often used as fast food. “Mam” is cooked out, then filtered the clear water, add some sugar, lemon grass and share with the bún. But in the “bun mam street”, the bowl of noodles seems to be much richer than other places through shrimp, squid, fish rolls, pork pieces rotten … but still keep the rich flavor and full of vegetables with banana, bitter vegetables, yellow velvetleaf (an aquatic flowering plant), water lily,…
Q：Please tell me the episode of the seasoning “Mom” in Vietnam.
A：“Mam” has become a part in Vietnamese people’s mind.
It is used as a ruler to judge people behavior. Because “mam” is very popular and familiar, so the person who care and concern about “mam” in a meal will be considered a man of good quality. In contrast, if a person is so obsessive about “mam” that he makes every calculation or comparison relating to “mam”, he/she will be considered insular and mean. “Mam” is also used to indicate human’s appearance and character in daily conversation even the story doesn’t relate to it. In particular, when a man and a woman in love chat to each other, they also do not forget to mention “mam”.
“Mam” appears in many types of literature, from traditional fairytale “Tam Cam”, to folk joke “which coin for “mam”, which coin for “tuong” (which ridicules shallow and lazy thinking person), and to contemporary novel “Dat Rung Phuong Nam” (Southern forest land) which is one of the most popular literary works for children over the past half century. The author, Doan Gioi, came from Tien Giang province, after many years separated from his hometown in Southern, missed the famous South specialties. He transferred all his love for southern food and culture in this story. This story plots about the adventures of a boy called Nam, who loses his family in a battle and lives in the southwestern region under the French colonialist. In this story, the author spent a small paragraph to write about “mam”.
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